It wasn't pretty and it was far from perfect. But in the end, New York's 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Saturday showed the right promise of a budding new rivalry, with the promise of more drama to come soon.
This first-ever battle between the Red Bulls and Union was just the opening round before Tuesday night, when these two teams face off a second time at Red Bull Arena in a U.S. Open Cup play-in battle.
Despite the fact that these clubs had never played each other, Saturday's tilt was a contest befitting two teams who should have a natural, deep rivalry with each other. The first chapter showed two sides still very much taking shape and was an even affair, despite the Red Bulls 2-1 win.
“There was no history between us and them, but it was a fierce game,” New York midfielder Dane Richards told MLSsoccer.com after game.
Defender Jeremy Hall echoed those statements, adding that there was a lot of talking and “jawing” between the two teams, more than usual. He credited the amped-up intensity on the field to “the strong showing from our supporters in section 101, who were great as always.”
On the field, defender Tim Ream said he was surprised there wasn’t more “chippiness” in the physical nature of the game, speculating that perhaps Philadelphia backed off physically given their two red cards in three games.
But the best sign for the Red Bulls right now is that at least the team's strategy looks to be getting better. A week after the Red Bulls were doubled up by FC Dallas in shots and shots on goal, New York showed some improvement by limiting the Union’s chances. After scoring the game’s first goal, a Salou Ibrahim header in the 50th minute to start things off, the Red Bulls sat back and defended.
Still, Backe was displeased to see his midfield and defense so close to his own penalty area. “We just invited Philadelphia to score,” he said. The Union scored a beautiful equalizer in the 59th minute when Fred found a streaking Alejandro Moreno on the right side, who calmly crossed to Sébastian Le Toux for the finish.
But New York hung on as the game grew more physical in the second half, grabbing the winning goal after Michael Orozco's handball in the box led to Juan Pablo Ángel's go-ahead PK.
Despite the uneven nature of the game and New York’s difficulty in closing out their expansion opponent, the 4-1 Red Bulls are off to their best start in nine years. For a team that didn’t win its fourth game last year until September, the ugly win over the Union is good enough.
“Three points is three points,” said defender Jeremy Hall. “No one is going to go back and look at the tape and not be happy with the fact that we won.”
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.