NYCFC forward Andres Jasson (left) and Red Bulls midfielder Omir Fernandez.

NYCFC forward Andres Jasson (left) and Red Bulls midfielder Omir Fernandez. Credit: AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez; New York Red Bulls

Across New York’s intracity sports rivalries, the greatest fervor often is generated by the fanbases, which can cross familial lines and divide friends and neighbors.

In local Major League Soccer, it starts on youth academy fields.

If there’s ever a need for proof that familiarity breeds contempt, have a conversation with a homegrown player for New York City FC or the New York Red Bulls, who meet Saturday at Yankee Stadium in the latest edition of the Hudson River Derby.

Nobody on either team will feign affinity for their rival, but it’s a distinct level of intensity for players who’ve gone through the MLS academy system. These clubs became a key part of their identity during their formative years, and heated matchups from a young age solidified their side of the divide, helping drive the present game’s overall emotion.

“Personally, I don’t like this team,” Red Bulls midfielder Omir Fernandez said. “This game brings a different desire and a different hunger for me.”

The feeling is mutual.

“It’s almost like a final every time we play,” NYCFC forward Andres Jasson said. “Even in the academy, these games were big games. I don’t think it ever really mattered which team stood where in the table, it was always a battle.”

Neither first team currently stands tall in the MLS standings, slotted at 12th (NYCFC) and 13th (Red Bulls) in the Eastern Conference, three spots removed from the playoff picture with just over a month left in the regular season. But the Red Bulls (7-8-12, 29 points) own in-season bragging rights, having won both previous matches against NYCFC (6-12-10, 30 points) this season, once each in MLS and Leagues Cup.

Both ended 1-0 thanks to goals by Bronx native Fernandez, who’s tallied four scores against NYCFC in his career.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s luck or it’s just fate that against this team that I hate the most, I go in and score and we go on to win those games,” Fernandez said.

The Red Bulls bring seven homegrowns to this week’s Derby, including regulars Fernandez, John Tolkin, Peter Stroud and Daniel Edelman. NYCFC boasts nine on homegrown deals, with Jasson, James Sands, Tayvon Gray and Justin Haak seeing significant time this season.

“A lot of us either played with guys on Red Bull when we were younger or knew them from national team camps, so there was a lot of familiarity between us and them,” Jasson said. “I think that made it even better and a bigger competition between us because we both knew whoever won had bragging rights. From a young age it was definitely a big deal and now moving into the first team, some of those guys we used to battle with in the academy are now on the first team.”

Jasson, who grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, joined the academy in 2016, forgoing a scholarship to Yale to sign with the first team in 2020. While he never considered playing for the Red Bulls because of distance factors and early connections to NYCFC, those matches quickly became some of his most memorable.

“One time we played them at St. John’s at our home field and I remember a couple guys on their team had been, you know, talking a little bit,” Jasson said. “We were really up for it, and we ended up beating them, 6-0. That was a big feeling for us and we really enjoyed it.”

Despite his Bronx ties, Fernandez had early roots to the club across the river. He joined the Red Bulls' academy before NYCFC’s was established, having frequented MetroStars/RedBulls matches with his family, and he’s never looked back.

“I’ve always been a Red Bulls fan since I was young and wanted to play here,” Fernandez said. “This derby brings a lot of emotions for me and my family, so I always go into this game trying to win and bringing that extra, and always try to be the player that comes out on top at the end of the game.”

The final Derby of the season will also see the first trophy awarded to the aggregate MLS winner, adding a bit more incentive in what could soon be a lost season for both clubs.

“This year, they’ve definitely gotten the better of us and we don’t want to leave that sour taste in our mouths,” Jasson said. “Considering the earlier games this season against them and the playoff push we’re making, we all understand the importance of the game."

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