HUDSON RIVER DERBY TALES: PART TWO | Red Bulls knock it out of the park in The Bronx

In this three-part series, Red Bulls correspondent Frank Giase will examine the three regular-season games against expansion club New York City FC. We’ll take a look at the mindset of the team leading up to each match, how the results impacted the fan base, and how the Red Bulls’ success in these games solidified their status as the top team in the Tri-State Area.
 
After the Red Bulls won the historic first meeting in the New York derby you would have thought it might send the teams in opposite directions. But in the seven weeks until the rematch June 28 at Yankee Stadium, it was quite a different story.
 
Since that 2-1 victory in May the Red Bulls (5-5-5) had taken just one point from five games until a 1-0 win over a nine-man Real Salt Lake team, a stretch that dropped them into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, while NYCFC (4-7-5) had won three in a row.
 
Heading into their second meeting it was hard to believe that a NYCFC victory would tie them with the Red Bulls with 20 points apiece, something that didn’t seem possible a short time ago.
 
“Now it’s a big divisional game,” Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “They’ve got to be feeling good about themselves. They’ve had a few victories in a row. We went through a tough spell but I think we learned a lot about ourselves.”
 
During the week the Red Bulls had reduced the width of their practice field to 68 yards to get used to the tighter dimensions of the Yankee Stadium pitch. For a team that likes to play the ball wide and keep the ball moving, the smaller playing surface brought problems.
 
“The game’s fast, and you can’t take much time trying to decide what you’re going to do,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “You have to think ahead of the game and you have to know that losing balls in bad spots can cost you, so you have to play direct at times and you have to play in their end. And then the last part is that set pieces are a big part. You can put balls in the box from almost anywhere on the field, and that includes throw-ins.”
 
The Red Bulls might have been ready for the smaller field, but what they weren’t ready for was the energy, pace and pressure exhibited by NYCFC right from the opening whistle. Six minutes into the match they had the lead from Thomas McNamara, who was in position to roll a shot into the lower right corner as the majority of the crowd of 48,047 roared their approval.
 
To pump up the crowd even more, NYCFC displayed a shot on the stadium’s huge video scoreboard of midfielders Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo watching the game from a luxury suite. The legendary players would join the club during the summer transfer window, and their presence seemed to spark the club in a well-played first half.
 
It was yet another slow start by the Red Bulls, who were coming out of what would be there worst stretch of the season. Though they had the lead in the first derby game, they had to maintain their poise and focus playing down a man the final 54 minutes.
 
This game would require the same commitment, especially after NYCFC was unlucky not to score in the eighth and 17th minutes, each time the ball rolling just wide. Though the Red Bulls had a couple of chances near the end of the first half, they needed some kind of offensive spark to get them going.
 
“We came out of the locker room saying, ‘Look, the game is there for us. We should have confidence that the goals were going to come,’ ”Kljestan said. “As soon as we got the first early goal it gave us a real boost of energy, a real boost of confidence, and maybe we scared them a little bit after that.”
 
Goals by Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 47th minute and the first career goal by defender Chris Duvall five minutes later gave the Red Bulls the lead and the momentum. By the time defender Matt Miazga added his first MLS goal in the 73rd minute to make it 3-1 – a moment he immortalized by running to the dirt outside the touchline and taking a pretend batting swing as part of his celebration – the Red Bulls had the game in hand.
 
Kljestan had a Man of the Match performance, not just because of his two assists, but it was the first time he finally seemed comfortable in the Red Bulls offense. He would go on to have a lengthy streak of points as the team made its run to the Supporters’ Shield, and he would prove to be one of the league’s best offseason acquisitions.
 
“We had a ton of confidence,” Kljestan said. “The entire second half was played in their end. Credit to a lot of the guys around me. They found me in good spots and I was able to put a few plays together and we ended up winning the game. It was a good feeling to score three goals in one game as well.”
 
NYCFC would go on to have defensive issues all season, but in late June they had made a few moves that would keep the team in the playoff hunt once those players, along with Lampard and Pirlo, arrived.
 
For the Red Bulls, cheered on by the 2,000 supporters who supplied a huge splotch of red among the blue in the upper deck, it was a turning point in the season. This was not just a derby victory, but a match in which they learned something about themselves.
 
“We talked a lot, especially in the four-game losing stretch, learning about ourselves, growing as individuals and as a team, and a lot of it has been ... whatever you want to call it, a competitive edge, a killer instinct, the sense of and belief that when the times are toughest that we were going to respond,” Marsch said.
 
“When we were down 1-0, I felt like we systematically went about the game knowing that it was going to come. We came out in the second half and right away we had the lead and pushed it from there. I’m proud of the guys tonight and it showed a lot of character.”
 
For NYCFC, the club had made some strides since the game at Red Bull Arena, but they still couldn’t put together a solid 90 minutes, and the Red Bulls took advantage. Despite the presence of David Silva and Mix Diskerud, and later Lampard and Pirlo, the club could not overcome its defensive issues, and those lapses would play a big part in the final derby game just a few weeks later.

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