By Michael Lewis
In contrast to past Hudson River Derbies, the first confrontation of the MLS season pits a pair of teams desperate to right their wrongs to get on the right track.
Both sides need points.
Visiting New York City FC (4-4-3), off a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup elimination at FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, has experienced woeful problems defending set plays and has failed to win on the road this MLS season (0-4-2).
“We know we messed up, and now the focus is to bounce back,” NYCFC center back Maxime Chanot said.
The host Red Bulls, off a Open Cup triumph on Tuesday, find themselves with one of the worst records of the league (1-4-6) and an inability to score more than one goal a game (seven total this campaign) with an underachieving 1-1-3 home record.
Where their goals are going to come from is a mystery, considering their three biggest offensive threats, midfielder Luqunihas (adductor) forwards Lewis Morgan (hip) and Dante Vanzeir (fifth game of a six-match suspension) are still sidelined. Omir Fernandez scored the Red Bulls’ lone goal in the 1-0 win over D.C. United on Tuesday, May 8.
Lesesne has experienced an intriguing debut week. A day after it was announced he had replaced the departed Gerhard Struber as head coach, he guided the Red Bulls to a 1-0 home win over D.C. United in the Open Cup. And now Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. encounter at Red Bull Arena.
He has experienced rivalry matches before – when he coached New Mexico against El Paso in the USL Championship.
“I do not think anything compares though to New York City vs. Red Bull New York,” Lesesne said. “This is going to be a different level than I have experienced. I can only say that I have watched it from a distance, and I appreciate the scale of the rivalry. I experienced it last year three times, but I am still learning about it and now I’m in a different role and a different capacity. It will mean something more probably on the weekend to me personally.”
Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Edelman, who was selected to the U.S. squad that will play at the Under-20 World Cup in Argentina, was introduced to the intensity of the derby in two games last year. He came on as a substitute in the first match at RBA and started in the encounter at Yankee Stadium.
“The start for me, of course, was different,” Edelman said. “Playing in that environment is something that these games are very intense and it’s, it was an eye opener for me. I think games like Philadelphia Union, D.C., are always good rivalries. But with the derby game, I don’t want to say they know the sense of hatred, but it’s just I guess you just want to go at these guys because they’re from New York, too. And all I want to do is say New York is red and want to give them nothing to be proud of, and like, just crush them.”
Chanot has experienced many derby matches, so he also realizes the intensity.
“It’s extra motivation,” he said. “Obviously, we play every game for the fans, but we know this Derby means a lot for them.
“We can’t let them down. I’m talking about myself but I’m sure the other players will say the same: once you step out on a pitch when you know you’re going to play against your real rivals, the New York Red Bulls, you all do that for the fans.
“They’re going to be important this weekend, and we will not let them down.”
NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing expects a raucous atmosphere at RBA.
“We know it will be a difficult game,” he said. “They will try to make it messy.
“We’ve tended to play Red Bulls’ game too much and forced us to play direct. … These games swing on individual moments.”
Cushing wouldn’t be surprised if the Red Bulls came out fired up.
““I think teams naturally get a bump when they change coaches,” he said.