The inaugural edition of the New York Derby will pit two teams that are playing on two completely different levels. One sits four points from the top of the Eastern Conference and has only tasted defeat once in the 2015 campaign. The other sits tied for second bottom of the table and hasn’t won a game since its lone victory of the season in March. At the beginning of the season if these descriptors were used, many fans would have thought that billionaire-backed New York City FC would be sitting in the dominant position, but the seemingly forgotten Red Bulls side has shown not only the Big Apple but the entire league that they are still one of the best teams in the East.
For the Red Bulls, this will be the first time of the season where they will be coming off of a defeat. Last week’s 2-1 loss away to the New England Revolution was the side’s first of the year, but Red Bull Arena still stands as a fortress for the hosts. In the four games hosted in the New Jersey stadium, only two teams have managed to sneak a goal past a stout Red Bull defense, and no team has managed to score more than once. Only on two occasions this season have the Red Bulls allowed two goals in a match, and this prudent defensive play has been a main factor in the only recently blemished Red Bull record.
A stout defense has been required this season, however, as the team’s offensive spark seems to have been dimmed. In three straight games, the Red Bulls have failed to score more than once in a match. On the bright side, no team has been able to keep a clean sheet against the team from the East. Bradley Wright-Phillips has again taken on the task of leading the goal-scoring burden leading the team with three strikes, but the load has been lightened between Wright-Phillips and players like Lloyd Sam (3 goals), Mike Grella and Sacha Kljestan (goals each). The Red Bulls’ inability to score multiple goals in matches puts even more pressure on their defense and any mistakes on the defensive side of the ball could be the difference between a win and a loss.
It was only a matter of time before the growing pains of moving to the MLS hit NYCFC. The first-year team continued its seemingly never-ending losing streak last week when the Seattle Sounders traveled to Yankee Stadium and outclassed a weak New York side. The absence of cohesion between the team has played a large part in the squad’s poor form. The midfield and defensive units are still trying to distinguish a club identity and the results have shown that they are still searching for that identity.
Even with star players like Mix Diskerud and David Villa lining up for the Manchester City-backed outfit, NYCFC has still struggled to string together any results. Villa finally returned from a lengthy injury spell as a substitute against Seattle and in his absence the club has struggled to score. Before Mehdi Ballouchy scored in the 54th minute against the Sounders, NYCFC was in the midst of a 250+ minute goal drought. Despite his almost five-game absence, Villa still stands tied with the goal scoring lead for the team with just two goals. A stout Red Bull defense will not gift any chances to their crosstown rivals and Villa will need to show his master class if his squad hope to find an illusive win.
I think many of us were expecting a smaller gap to separate these two sides when they met for the first time. Even after losing last week against the Revolution, the Red Bulls’ one-game mishap is nothing compared to NYCFC’s atrocious showing in its first season. This terrible form makes it very difficult to see the new club leaving Red Bull Arena with three points so I’m going to predict a 2-0 victory for the original MLS side in the Big Apple.