It’s Game 3 of the New York City derby and, once again, the story lines have changed. The first game, at Red Bull Arena, saw a red card destroy the rhythm of the match but the Red Bulls held on for the victory. The second game, at Yankee Stadium, saw New York City FC start fast and the Red Bulls rally to win.
Game 3 tonight at Red Bull Arena adds new players, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard for NYCFC and Shaun Wright-Phillips and Gonzalo Veron for the Red Bulls. But one factor will remain the same. The Red Bulls will press high and force NYCFC to play fast, but with aging stars it remains to be seen if they are up to the task.
“What we want to do is try to play at a pace that challenges their whole midfield to keep up with,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “Every game we play we have a standard set of certain things that we employ when we press, certain tactical movements, but we always adjust things for teams that we play against to make sure we’re addressing their strengths and weaknesses. It’s just a different kind of challenge.”
Though Pirlo and Lampard are legendary players they are 36 and 37 years old, respectively. Also, Lampard has been slowed by injury and Pirlo is just returning to fitness following the end of the Serie A season. Making them think quickly and keep in tune with their teammates who they are still getting to know could be a challenge.
“I kind of always go back to what we’re going to be about, not what the opposing team is going to be about,” Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “We’re going to try to put them under pressure, we’re going to try and play in their end, we’re going to try and create turnovers and create chances off those turnovers. Same thing goes no matter who is on the field. It’s still 11v11 between the white lines.
“I still think you’re going to see the same start of the game from us. It’s going to be a difficult game. They’re a very good team, that’s for sure. They have quality players. We have to still do our best to try and put them under pressure and not have an easy game. We’re going to try to take advantage of little spots on the field where maybe we can win the ball higher up the field and create chances.”
The Red Bulls (9-6-6) will be playing their third game in nine days, but unlike other times that happened this season there are quality reserves in waiting. The addition of Veron and Shaun Wright-Phillips will give the team one of the more formidable midfields in Major League Soccer. Marsch said Veron will make his Red Bulls debut tonight after being introduced to the media on Saturday while Wright-Phillips, who has played two games off the bench, should eventually work his way into the starting 11.
Red Bulls midfielder Mike Grella has been one of the surprises of the season, and though he admits to being a Pirlo fan, he says it will be all business tonight.
“I’ve been a huge Pirlo fan as long as I can remember. I’m sure (he and Lampard) will add a lot of quality to the team,” Grella said. “But it’s about how we can implement what we want to do, high energy, high pressure. I have so much confidence in myself and the guys, we’ll be hard to deal with. We want to make it a fast game, a high pressure game, and we want to keep it going as long as possible.”
Veron arrives at the perfect time and his first game will be one of the biggest of the season. He has been a part of intense derbies with San Lorenzo in his native Argentina.
“In Buenos Aires, the derbies are special,” Veron said through an interpreter, team administrator Juan Romero. “You grew up with them, you've lived them, you know what they're about. (It’s) going to be a different experience because I don't know exactly what I'm going to encounter. However, the approach is that every 50/50 ball we must win, the next play is the play that could decide the score, and I just hope that, if given the chance, when I go in that I'm up to par with the rest of my teammates.”
Grella says the first-year rivalry gets more and more intense every time they play.
“It’s getting better by the game,” he said. “The first one was pretty good and the second one was even better, and I think this one’s going to be even better. They’re getting more and more players and are starting to build who they want to be. It’s becoming a really good rivalry and being from the area I’m proud to be a part of it and proud to be on the red side.”
One of the worries about NYCFC (6-10-6) is their craftiness on set pieces and the ability of Pirlo and Lampard to shoot and score from distance. And let’s not forget David Villa, who had 13 goals and five assists without a lot of help.
“We addressed (long-distance shots) and set pieces in general,” Marsch said. “They caused us trouble last time we were there with certain movements and Pirlo serves great balls, both on direct kicks and corner kicks and balls he puts in the box. We have to limit that.”
The signing of Wright-Phillips and Veron has energized the Red Bulls fan base and given them hope of a strong finish to the regular season and beyond. Marsch feels that as well.
“We're stronger now than I think we've ever been, and I think now it's a big task for me to try and get the balance right and maintain the strong mentality and make sure that all the pieces we have within this roster are sharp and ready to go because I think we've become very deep, we're very talented.” he said.
“I think we're very dynamic. We're young, we're fit, we're explosive, so I like our team and I think that there's still some proving ground here between now and November, but I think we've gotten stronger and stronger throughout the season and I expect us to continue to do so, and in the end we all have the goal of playing in December and ultimately competing for that MLS Cup. I think we're in good shape right now.”