NYCFC coach Ronny Deila walks the field during a training...

NYCFC coach Ronny Deila walks the field during a training session at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. Credit: NYCFC / Katie Cahalin

The points of emphasis have not changed on either side of the Hudson River Derby entering Sunday’s final meeting of the season at Red Bull Arena, even if both teams are in vastly different places than when they last faced off.

New York City FC and the Red Bulls played back-to-back derby matches last month, with both sides hoping to use the series as a catalyst in the MLS Cup playoff race. NYCFC was gearing up to mount a challenge for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, while a somewhat desperate Red Bulls side looked short-term, needing all the points it could get as it wallowed near the bottom of the standings.

It worked out quite well for the red team. Not so much for the blue one.

The Red Bulls took four points from those two matches, scoring very late at Red Bull Arena in a controversial 1-1 draw before winning 1-0 at Yankee Stadium a few days later, and haven’t stopped clawing back in the playoff picture. Their 37 points brings them within three points of two clubs in the final playoff spots.

One of those clubs happens to be their cross-river rival. NYCFC has slid from third place to seventh after earning just two points in its last four matches, but the expectations from coach Ronny Deila remain the same.

"Our top level is really, really high, I think everybody agrees on that. But our bottom level is way too low. So, that happens when you have a lot of young players in a team it's easy to be up and down," Deila said. "I'm sure Red Bull also as a young team would agree with that. But we have to get our good moments to be more often, and we have to get our lower level to be better. If we do that we are capable to do everything. The goal is to win, win something, and the playoffs is the big, big thing, of course…our goal now is to get as high as possible into the playoffs, and then go for the trophy."

Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber has seen the Red Bulls’ rise in the table, but the bigger picture remains far from his mind, even with a chance to draw level on points with NYCFC on Sunday.

 

"We look very focused on this game on Sunday, and we know a win must help us in many direction. That's it to me," Struber said. "We're thinking not so much in so many directions, we look very focused and concentrated in this game with all our power, with all our energy. And then I think the consequence when we win is always that we climb a little bit in the table, or we are very close for the next step."

Struber said his team has been "sharp in the brain" during its recent run and expects that to continue Sunday with an emphasis on making life difficult for NYCFC.

"I like it when our opponents have the feeling against us that it's not easy. It's not easy to play with control against us," Struber said. "I think maybe they will try more to play directly. I think they realize more, I think, our pressing and our power behind it. I think for us it's very important that we are clear that we dominate this game in more directions, in all four phases in the game."

NOTES: NYCFC striker Héber, who missed much of this season recovering from a torn ACL, should be seeing more and more of the field in the closing stretch of the season, Deila said. "[Thursday] he had really good training, looks sharper. Now it's been a year since he had the operation. In my experience it's like one year after, you're where you should be to get going." . . . the Red Bulls may be without Patryk Klimala, who is questionable with a thigh injury, but they will have fellow forward Fábio available against NYCFC after he missed four matches with a calf issue.

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