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Despite gap in standings, NYCFC and Red Bulls have similar mindsets entering back-to-back Hudson River Derby matches

New York City FC coach Ronny Deila watches

New York City FC coach Ronny Deila watches during the second half of the team's MLS soccer match against CF Montreal on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Credit: AP/Gary McCullough

New York City FC coach Ronny Deila knows keeping up with the Red Bulls, no matter their place in the standings, requires a higher level of focus and intensity.

Doing it twice in a four-day stretch is an entirely different challenge.

That’s the situation facing Deila and his NYCFC squad as the Hudson River Derby resumes Wednesday with back-to-back matches. The local clubs were supposed to play last month, but rain at Red Bull Arena delayed the opener to Wednesday. NYCFC then will host the Red Bulls on Saturday at Yankee Stadium in a regularly scheduled contest.

The short window would require strategic team selection regardless of opponent. The fact that the teams meet the same foe, in a local derby during a postseason race nonetheless, only complicates the matter. But both Deila and Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber said they will not let any plans for Saturday dictate how they coach Wednesday.

"When it's only 72 hours between the games you have to think [about] two games at the same time, but it's always the next one that is the most important," Deila said. "So, we will go full into tomorrow and then we have a plan, but at the same time, we have to adapt to whatever happens in the game."

Said Struber, "Now we have the Wednesday game, and after this game we have maybe some learnings or we realize something, and then we go into the next game. We work step-by-step every game and I think this is right now the most important thing, that we think not about what’s going on on the weekend. Wednesday is the next game and my whole focus goes into this game with my whole team."

The similar approaches come for clubs with distinct goals at this point in the campaign. NYCFC (11-5-8, 39 points) sits in third place in the Eastern Conference with eyes on Nashville SC and the No. 2 seed just three points ahead, yet also is just four points clear of eighth-place D.C. United outside the postseason picture.

The situation is a bit more urgent for the Red Bulls (7-5-11, 26 points). The club hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2009, but is stuck in 11th place in the East with a five-point gap to clear before reaching 10th-place Columbus Crew, never mind the nine points separating them from the final playoff spot.

"We need wins, we need points," Struber said. "We have the big goal to realize one more time, the playoffs. For our big goal, it’s a must have that we pick up the necessary points. I think every player understands what this week means for us. It’s important that we are ready for a big fight on Wednesday and ready to leave everything on the field to win this game."

RBNY’s desperation might amuse NYCFC fans, but Deila isn’t taking part in the schadenfreude, at least outwardly. The coach said his team is more concerned with securing their own standing than delivering a key blow to the Red Bulls’ playoff chances, and he knows their quick pressing can disrupt teams of any quality.

"We have high energy as well, how we play. It’s about dealing with their energy. I think that suits us well because we’re used to it," Deila said. "We have quality that is top, top in this league, we have shown that over a long time now. So for me, defend well, have a really good energy and intensity in the team and then put them under pressure and challenge them 1-v-1, because we have special players in that way."