The stakes could have been much higher entering the second Hudson River Derby of 2020.
Local bragging rights aside, neither New York City FC nor the Red Bulls will have their seasons drastically altered by the result, both having clinched berths in the MLS Cup Playoffs earlier this week.
But with fifth-place NYCFC still looking to secure home-field advantage to open the postseason, and the seventh-place Red Bulls hoping to avoid a play-in round altogether, there still is a little bit of fire in one of the area’s most heated rivalries entering Sunday’s match at Yankee Stadium.
"We have a lot to fight for," said NYCFC coach Ronny Deila. "And of course we also want to show who’s the best in town."
While most players expected to take part have plenty of rivalry experience to fuel them, Deila is set to participate in just his second Hudson River Derby, and Red Bulls interim coach Bradley Carnell is leading his team in the rivalry for the first time.
"It's going to be a tight game, it's going to be intense," Deila said. "It's going to be a lot of emotions and aggression, because it is a local derby. And we have to be up for that, but at the same time be calm in our heads and play tactically good. And if we do that we know we have quality to the beat everybody."
With two matches to play, NYCFC (10-8-3, 33 points) still can pass Orlando City SC and the Columbus Crew for a place in the top four place in the Eastern Conference, meaning a home playoff match likely against one of those clubs. The Red Bulls (8-8-5, 21 points) are hoping to keep a five-match unbeaten streak going and slide into the top six past Nashville SC, currently ahead on points per game with an extra match to play.
"Obviously bragging rights are always something that we want to play for in this matchup alone but, obviously the playoffs have just as much importance in that," said Red Bulls center back Tim Parker.
Those seeding implications thrown into the typically emotional derby have Carnell hoping to tame some of the Red Bulls’ passion.
"Very emotionless, not getting too high not getting too low about a derby match," Carnell said. "We just feel, we have a game where we can come within one point of NYC, so just thinking it's a three pointer on the line, we have nothing to lose but all to gain from the game. We've crept over the line, we've made the playoffs, and now can we start really tightening the screws, and see how good can we be at being us."
In 2020’s first Hudson River Derby, the Red Bulls snuck past City 1-0 on a long-range goal by Kyle Duncan, which controversially was ruled to have crossed the line despite the best efforts of keeper Sean Johnson.
While playoff positioning is the main focus, Deila did not forget that result.
"We didn't play really well, but we were as good as they were," said Deila. "The way we lost it was also not good, we didn't like that, so of course we want to take those points, not back but make it up again at home. This is a game we want to win, wherever we play and whenever we play."
This time, the "wherever" is Yankee Stadium for the first Hudson River Derby in the Bronx since last August after both teams shared Red Bull Arena earlier this season. NYCFC typically has one of the better homefield advantages in MLS, going 2-1 at Yankee Stadium since returning earlier this month, but Carnell isn’t convinced that will matter.
"I don't think they've had many home games at their stadium, I think they've used our home stadium more than theirs this season, so I think this year it's a bit of a tricky one saying they play best at home," Carnell said. "We've had some games in the bubble we've had a couple of games so they've had a couple of home games at RBA, so we'll just stick to our game plan and go ahead with what we want to do."