No Backflips for Royer as Red Bulls Look to Leap Over NYCFC

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

By JACK BELL

Red Bulls logoRed Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer backflipped his way through July, scoring six goals in Major League Soccer and winning Player of the Month honors.

Now, Coach Jesse Marsch is hoping for more goals, but has told his Austrian workhorse that the celebratory backflips, social media meme or not, are out. For good. Please.

“I’ve told him, but not the team, he’s banned from backflips,” Marsch said after training in Whippany, N.J., on Friday. “We can’t have a guy get hurt.”

Certainly not Royer, who has been one of the team’s best players during the Red Bulls’ four-game winning streak. And certainly not before the latest edition of the Hudson River Derby against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on Sunday evening (6 p.m. Eastern; Fox Sports 1). A victory by the Red Bulls (11-8-2, 35 points) would catapult them past NYCFC (11-7-4, 37) in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Red Bulls have been on a roll since losing, 2-0, at home to their cross-river rivals on June 24. A much-talked about change in formation with three in the back has energized the club’s attack, which has been spearheaded by Royer and Bradley Wright-Phillips.

“I wouldn’t say we changed things because of that loss,” Marsch said. “In the next game we tried a different formation. It was not as a result of that game.”

Perhaps it only looked that way. After dropping the three points at home to NYCFC, the Red Bulls found themselves in a down run of only two wins in their previous eight games. To make matters worse, the team was about to lose wing defenders Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica) and Michael Murillo (Panama) during the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Add to that injuries to Aurelien Collin and Connor Lade, and an anemic offense and Marsch knew it was time to make some moves.

“Look, in that a game, they played with more desire, heart and physicality,” Marsch said, referring to NYCFC. “That said, I thought it was a pretty even game. They were able to make two plays and we didn’t make any. It’s import for us to find a way in this series to get a result. Our guys will be up for it, they will be up for it. It sets up an interesting matchup.”

Speaking about Royer, Marsch said: “He’s found a great scoring touch in this new formation. We brought him here because we thought he fits and that’s been the case. We’re really happy for him. He’s been in a good groove, he’s had a good season and performed really well.”

While the Red Bulls have been able to modestly bolster their roster with the additions of Muhamed Keita and Fidel Escobar, NYCFC comes into the game without having made any roster additions and saddled by the absence of a handful of players who are out injured. Starting left back Ronald Matarrita is sidelined until at least September with a broken foot while center back Maxime Chanot is week to week with a groin injury. Miguel Camargo was placed on the season-ending injury list on Friday.

And Marsch might have added some bulletin board fodder to the heated three-year-old rivalry.

“This is series has never been about who’s missing,” Marsch said. “There were games where they didn’t have [Frank] Lampard and games where we’ve been shorthanded. The only surprise for me is over [Alexander] Callens‘ elbow at [Toronto’s Sebastian] Giovinco. I’m shocked he didn’t get suspended.

“This is such a special one, even though there’s a short history it’s got a big history. Every game has had twists and turns, events and big moments. And this one will be no different. We will have to be up for it and prepared for anything and everything. We want to make sure we can put a performance on the field we can be proud of and our fans can be proud of.”

Royer (10 goals) is now only one behind the team leader, Wright-Phillips. Royer will be playing his first game at Yankee Stadium, after playing in only six games, missing the end of last season with an injury that caused some to question (not me!) his value to the club after he signed with the Red Bulls last Aug. 6.

“When I came here, there was a lot to adjust to, the system, the people, everything,” Royer said. “I tried to improve every single day. Everyone was unbelievable to me, but I was injured in September and missed time. I had a good off-season, a lot of treatment and recovery trying to get in shape again. I came back and felt good. I had time to adjust and fit in to the team. What’s been really important to me is the trust from the coaching staff even when I didn’t play well. But nothing has been achieved yet.”

The Red Bulls host Orlando City next Saturday, then face FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League in a semifinal match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Aug. 15. After a trip to Portland for a game on Aug. 18, they again host NYCFC on Friday night, Aug. 25.