Red Faces on the Red Side of Town

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

By JACK BELL

Red Bulls logoBRONX, N.Y. — The second of two goals by Bradley Wright-Phillips gave the New York Red Bulls a lead in the 64th minute on Sunday evening. Then David Villa, transformed a red sky to blue.

In a duel of the strikers, Villa single-handedly put an exclamation point on the most intense and entertaining of the eight meetings between the clubs since New York City FC opened shop in Major League Soccer three seasons ago — scoring all three of his team’s goals in a 3-2 win.

This one, before 33,679 (a sell out) juiced fans in the House That George Steinbrenner Rebuilt, was the eighth in the so-called Hudson River Derby (though neither team plays in the immediate vicinity of the river; the Red Bulls on the Passaic River, NYCFC on the East River). The Red Bulls still own a 6-3 advantage in the series, though two of those losses came this year, with one more rivalry game to come, at Red Bull Arena on Aug. 25.

“When we have a moment like this, it means so much to our fans and to us,,” Red Bulls Coach Jesse Marsch said. “I almost feel responsible to the fans and the club. We’ve come up short two times this year and the next game is huge.

“We’re really disappointed, and I feel bad for our fans. I looked up there [to the hundreds red-clad Red Bulls supporters in Yankee Stadium’s upper deck] after the game and really feel bad that we didn’t do more for the fans. It’s a crappy feeling, but this is what these rivalries are.”

Through 64 minutes, it appeared that the Red Bulls (11-9-2, 35) were well on their way to a fifth-straight league victory, a victory that would have sent them past NYCFC (12-7-4, 40) and into third place in the Eastern Conference.

“Villa made a couple of plays,” the captain Sacha Kljestan said. “We need to confront him higher up on the field and take a professional foul instead of letting him run 50 yards with the ball.”

That was the goal that tied the match, in the 72nd minute, when Frederic Brillant launched Villa on that long run on the right side. The shifty Spaniard in stride cut the ball once, then again around the Red Bulls’ defender Aaron Long before his shot kissed off the far post and in.

“He’s a tough guy to deal with,” Marsch said, referring to Villa. “Aaron Long had a big responsibility, and this was a big experience for Aaron. But in a second, what happens with high-quality guys is if you give them space they hurt you. He’s a quality player. There’s nothing else to say.”

Villa iced the match in the 75th. After taking a high kick to the face from Sal Zizzo (who received a yellow card, then a second late in the game) in the penalty area, Villa went one way as Robles dove the other way.

Marsch and several of his players read from the same hymn sheet, pointing to the club’s youngish roster, mistakes made and the value of experience. That said, it’s still little solace for a team that stood astride the rivalry, especially after last year’s 7-0 spanking of NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.

“It absolutely is a learning experience but we have a lot of belief starting from Jesse and everyone in this locker room with our young guys and when you look at the beginning of the season and where there were some growing pains this may be part of it, but nonetheless we know that there are guys in this locker room regardless of their age and their experience that are ready to contribute, that are ready to come on the field and make a difference but collectively we have to do that,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said.

Robles added: “Every loss is tough. Especially when you go on a run like us and you haven’t been losing, now you get that familiar taste in your mouth and it’s bitter but obviously it hurts a little more because it is them. But we’re not unrealistic. We know that we’ve had the better part of the rivalry and things will swing.”

NOTES

Daniel Royer, the MLS Player of the Month in July after scoring six goals, had a difficult night. He drew a yellow card in the sixth minute, then had to leave the match in the 14th (replaced by Alex Muyl) when Alex Callans fell on his right knee. Marsch said X-rays were negative and said it appeared to be a hyperextension. … Marsch had some choice words for Referee Baldomero Toledo after the game. ” I thought that the referee reffed the score. Like all of a sudden we started to get some calls when we went down a goal, but in the meantime, he’s giving them so many soft fouls. So many little things going for them that they end up getting an edge on. … And I’ll say this. I haven’t talked about the ref one time this year so I’m not making excuses. I give New York City credit. But I’ve been on my best behavior from referee perspective this year, but this one was too much to swallow.” … Villa has got to be considered the best designated player signing in league history. In 87 games, last year’s MVP has 58 goals and 13 assists.

Correction: An earlier version of this posting contained inaccurate information on the series record between the teams. They have now played nine times (6-3 for Red Bulls), not eight times. And NYCFC won one game before its two victories this year.