New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson doesn’t need to be reminded of what happened in this season’s first Hudson River Derby.
With NYCFC and the rival Red Bulls tied at 1 in the 62nd minute of last month’s meeting at Red Bull Arena, unclear communication by the match officials left City flat-footed. After an NYCFC clearance went awry, the assistant referee pointed for a corner kick. The head official overruled for a throw-in, but didn’t make it clear enough to the City players walking toward the box preparing for a corner. The Red Bulls restarted play quickly and caught NYCFC napping as Daniel Royer headed in the eventual winner before City knew what was going on.
Johnson remembers it well, but he said the club didn’t make it a big deal, even after officials publicly acknowledged their mistake.
“We put that game behind us. It was a game where a lot of things happened that didn’t go our way, unfortunately,” Johnson said. “But we can’t dwell on it, we didn’t dwell on it, we didn’t have time.”
The 16th edition of the Derby is set for Saturday at Yankee Stadium with Red Bulls leading the series 9-4-2, and as important as local bragging rights are for two growing franchises, the massive implications in the MLS Eastern Conference standings are a bit more pressing.
NYCFC currently sits in third with 44 points, three points shy of Atlanta United and Philadelphia Union, but has a game in hand on Atlanta, two games on Philadelphia and a conference lead in points per game. The Red Bulls are not far behind, trailing NYCFC by just three points despite having played two extra games at this point in the season.
The Red Bulls got the result in the first matchup, but won’t underestimate their rival having seen City’s rise up the table from across the river
“They’re a really good team,” said Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles. “There’s some teams in the East that have a lot of quality and you feel they can make a deep run in the season and the playoffs, and New York City is one of them.”
Robles, who joined the Red Bulls three years before NYCFC started MLS play, said he was a bit disappointed with MLS’ “Rivalry Week” scheduling. Three days before the local derby, the Red Bulls faced longtime enemy D.C United, recording a dramatic 2-1 win in which both teams went down to 10 men.
“When I did see the schedule and I saw we were playing D.C. on Wednesday and turning around and playing New York City on Saturday, I felt MLS wasn’t doing us any favors,” Robles said. “I was hoping the game would at least be on Sunday so we could get another day of rest, but it is what it is. Everyone’s dealing with this. With the new scheduling and the new playoffs and everything being congested in the summer, I don’t think anyone has any excuses.”
After the win Wednesday, Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said he doesn’t believe it’ll be hard managing the quick turnaround between two emotionally-charged games.
“For me, we’ll be smart with how we go at that game," Armas said. We know that guys have logged a lot of minutes this week. This was a longer break from Saturday to Wednesday, now it’s Wednesday to Saturday, you have to factor in. That game’s going to require hard energy, at the same time concentration and experience. But we’ll be up for that. In those games, you have to almost calm the guys down. The emotion can be used to focus and be in on every play, because in those games, like tonight, you can’t let the details slip.”
NYCFC is dealing with its own quick turnaround after beating lowly Columbus Crew SC at the Stadium on Wednesday. City coach Domènec Torrent appreciates the attention around a local derby, but after beating the Crew, he didn’t want to get caught up in rivalry hype.
“For me, the most important thing was to win this game [against Columbus] because if you’re not able to win this game, forget about Red Bull. I know it’s important because it’s a derby, I know that for the fans, but it’s three points,” Torrent said. “We will try to win the game because I know how important it is for the fans, but for me the most important game is the next game, then the next game. Right now, the most important is Red Bull. After Red Bull, the most important is Vancouver. And I have to choose the right players and the players in top form. The good news for us is everybody is ready to play against Red Bulls and it’s my job to find the right players to play against them.”
While revenge for a tough loss last time out would be nice for NYCFC and its fans, Johnson said his club doesn’t have anything to prove against the Red Bulls, only to themselves.
“I don’t think so. The only thing we have to prove is that we’re capable of winning another home game in a row, two home games,” Johnson said. “You have to defend your home turf.”