The July version of the Hudson River Derby came with a controversial plot twist, leading to a Red Bulls win over NYCFC. The August version came with a touch of controversy and a dose of payback.
Heber scored the go-ahead goal in the 53rd minute. NYCFC held on to earn a split of the regular-season series, claiming a 2-1 win Saturday night in front of 28,895 at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s for our fans because I know how important it is for them,” coach Domenec Torrent said.
The match had meaning in the tight Eastern Conference race for playoff seeding. Defending MLS champ Atlanta United and Philadelphia both have 48 points.
This NYCFC team (13-5-8) is now one point back in third with eight to play. The top seed receives a first-round bye and the second through fourth seeds open with a home match.
There are four regular-season games left for City at the Stadium where the team is 8-1-4.
The Red Bulls (12-11-5) have six to play. They still lead the all-time regular-season series with NYCFC, 7-5-2.
The teams met the first time back on July 14 at Red Bull Arena. Daniel Royer headed in the deciding goal in the 60th minute.
But the assistant referee had signaled for a corner kick, and the NYCFC players were getting prepared for that. The referee overruled him, and the Red Bulls quickly threw the ball in, leading to the goal and the win, also 2-1.
The rematch stood at 1-1 at the intermission. Then Heber scored his team-high 13th, beating Luis Robles from point-blank range after taking a short cross from Anton Tinnerholm.
“Now is the time for our team to play nice football like we played today,” Heber said. “Of course, any time you play the derby and you win, you get more confidence.”
City survived being a man down for about three minutes in stoppage time after Ronald Matarrita left via a red card.
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas thought NYCFC went too heavy on delay tactics later in the match.
“That was really disappointing to see,” Armas said. “ . . . Our league should look at that and say, “How do we manage that?’ Do you pull out yellow cards? Yeah, because our team would never do this.”
The Red Bulls opened the scoring in the 10th minute. Alex Muyl took a feed from Kaku and beat Sean Johnson with a left-footed blast.
NYCFC hit the crossbar and a post before finally getting the equalizer in the 43rd minute. Maxi Moralez scored on a penalty kick after Michael Murillo knocked him down in front.
“The teams that finish at the top, you can’t make those errors,” Armas said. “Or, listen, some guys go down easy. I mean, Murillo, it doesn’t look like he does that much and Moralez just falls over.”
In the end, Torrent said, “I thought we deserved to win the game.”