Area soccer supremacy always is on the line for Hudson River Derby matches. Ownership of Harrison, New Jersey, however, is an added wrinkle these days.
New York City FC and the Red Bulls resume their rivalry Saturday evening with RBNY hosting at Red Bull Arena, also a temporary part-time home for NYCFC for the past year. The Red Bulls will be the home team, but 11 "home" MLS matches for NYCFC in its rival’s building during the pandemic has the club confident ahead of the first derby of 2021.
"We have played there many times this year and that has to be a positive thing, that we know the pitch and we know the whole arena," NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said. "You always feel a local derby wherever you are in the world. You know it’s important, not only for the supporters. You can feel it in the players, you can feel it in the whole club."
New York City FC (9-4-6, 31 points) has remained one of the league’s best home clubs despite splitting time between RBA and Yankee Stadium (including eight wins and three losses as the host in Harrison since last season), driving the club to third in the Eastern Conference standings. The Red Bulls (6-4-9, 22 points) have struggled overall, sitting five points out of the playoffs in 10th place, but largely defended home turf so far with a 5-2-2 mark this season. Gerhard Struber, set for his first Hudson River Derby as coach of the Red Bulls, wants to make sure the temporary tenants don’t feel at home once they hit the pitch.
"We have to be very, very ready in our brain and in our fitness to handle the game in our way. We make the rules in our stadium. We make the rhythm in our stadium," Struber said. "This is my expectation on Saturday, we give the rhythm and we make the rules and they have to feed it."
The Red Bulls largely have done so in previous derby matches in the building. They are 8-1-1 over NYCFC across all competitions in Harrison, with City’s only road derby win coming in 2017. While this RBNY squad tracks a bit younger with less derby experience, the message has been heard.
"We are going to make sure that they feel like they are at our stadium and it’s not another home game for them," RBNY defender Tom Edwards said. "We’re going to make it as tough as possible for them, be confident. We’ll have a lot of fans there cheering us on so it’ll be a good atmosphere for it, just to make sure they do feel like it’s an away game and they don’t feel like they can step on us thinking it’s a home game."
NYCFC’s leveled the playing field in recent years, finishing above their rivals in the standings the last two seasons, but the Red Bulls still hold a 10-2-6 derby lead in all competitions. City’s extra work in enemy territory may help narrow that gap.
"We've played a handful of games now at Red Bull Arena, I think the guys have obviously gotten comfortable with the environment," NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson said. "So for us, I think that's an advantage going into the game, but we're going to treat it like a match of importance as we do every game, and I think the guys understand that it's a derby and what it's going to take to come away with not only a result, but three points."