Red Bulls See Positives Against NYCFC

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

Red Bulls logoHARRISON, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls won their first four matches against upstart neighbor New York City FC, and coming into 2017, five of their six meetings by a combined score of 18-5.

It had been so one-sided, T-shirts were printed with an adult in a Red Bulls jersey holding the hand of a child in an NYC jersey along with the words, “Who’s Your Daddy?”

This season has been different. After a 1-0 fourth-round U.S. Open Cup victory, the Red Bulls have lost twice, 2-0 at home on June 24 and again by 3-2 in Yankee Stadium on Aug. 6 when David Villa burned them for all three goals.

Friday night was an opportunity to realign the stars, but despite controlling the match, the Red Bulls had to rally from a deficit in the second half to scrape out a 1-1 draw.

“I want to mention the Open Cup,” Coach Jesse Marsch said, joking. “And the preseason. We beat them in the preseason.”

Disappointed with the draw, Marsch at least had reason to be a little light-hearted. Having won eight of their previous 10 matches – last week’s loss at Portland coming at the end of a three-games-in-seven-day stretch – Friday’s game saw the Red Bulls outshoot NYC by 21-9 (15-2 in the first half), hit the frame twice and have a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in possession.

Gonzalo Verón’s 70th-minute penalty conversion came after the Red Bulls thought they had deserved two earlier calls in four minutes.

“[A] part of the job of now being a good team and being a good manager is to try to find ways to now look at things clearly and map out exactly what happened, and despite the result, figure out what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well,” Marsch said.

“On average tonight I thought a lot of guys played really well, we did a lot of things really well. We controlled the game the way we wanted to, but we just weren’t able to capitalize on it.”

One of those things that went well was Aaron Long, who limited Villa to 35 touches, only one shot on goal and three in total – one of which was his patented looping tries from midfield that attempt to catch the goalkeeper of his line.

Villa launched his attempt in the 77th minute before Luis Robles quickly retreated like a center fielder only to watch the ball fall on the top of the net.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh wow, that look like it’s on frame. It’s going to be tough,’ ” Long said. “But as it got closer I knew that Luis was close enough to stop it if it came down. But in the beginning, I was scared for sure.”

And despite Villa one-touching a pass into Maximiliano Moralez in the 56th minute for the go-ahead goal, Long was much happier about Friday’s performance than the one he had against Villa earlier this month.

“From a personal standpoint, I think I did a lot better this game than at their house,” he said. “That was a point the coaches made to me, to try to handle him this game and I think we locked him up pretty well at the back.”

Marsch was more than pleased.

“Aaron was very good. Fidel [Escobar] was very good. Kemar [Lawrence] made it very hard,” Marsch said. “So I felt like that back three was quite good. Their aggressiveness, athleticism, their intelligence, I think, bodes well for the future of what we’re doing here. So we’ve had to rotate a lot of guys on the back line. We’re trying to find in some ways our first-choice lineup. In other ways we know we can count on a lot of different guys based on what we’re going to see. We’ve challenged them all.

“Listen, if you want to be a big time center back and we play against big-time strikers, you’ve got to find a way to take care of them. David Villa, [Toronto’s Sebastian] Giovinco, these guys are not easy to take care of. What great players they are and we’re lucky to have them in our league. But I think Aaron took a big step forward in his career tonight the way he played against Villa.”

The positives don’t detract from a 1-1 draw against a three-year-old neighbor that has tried to impress with internationally renowned acquisitions – and one that the Red Bulls, until this year, have dominated.

And with the playoffs getting bigger in the window ahead, the Red Bulls are aware they probably aren’t done yet with NYC this year.

“I got questioned this week … like we’ve played them so many times in the past two months. Whatever, it feels like two weeks,” Marsch said. “So does it dilute the intensity of the rivalry? I mean, the obvious answer is yes, it does.

“It’s still one that I think both teams take so much pride in. I think it’s developed into one of the best, if not the best rivalry in the league, right, for many reasons. Listen, we’re fully aware that if we get to the playoffs and we see them, that that will be a heavy moment for both teams and one that both teams will be up to and an exciting proposition for both clubs and for the league. So we have some time before and some potential to get to that point, but I think everybody’s aware of it.”