The first Hudson River Derby of 2022 is upon New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls this week, an occasion which brought back a handful of pleasant memories for RBNY coach Gerhard Struber on Tuesday.
While NYCFC finished 2021 with MLS Cup in hand, a last laugh to its rivals who’ve yet to win a championship despite a two-decade head start, the Red Bulls did manage to take seven points from three league matches against City, increasing its all-time advantage in the Hudson River Derby to 12-6-3.
Reminiscing Tuesday, Struber said his club’s cohesion and togetherness were key in those matches, and likely will be again with first-place NYCFC visiting Red Bull Arena in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
“We were so on the same page, I can remember the synchronized moments that we created,” Struber said. “From the first line until the last line, I think we were so clear in the plan and we were brave in many moments to play our game and transitions. And I think they have a lot of problems with us to manage our identity, our power, and also the spirit we have.”
Each squad had its successes last year, some clearly bigger than others, but both clubs could be playing even better soccer these days. City sits atop the MLS Eastern Conference with 27 points, one more than the second-place Red Bulls despite playing two fewer matches.
That of course goes to the side for Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup showdown. Neither local club has won the 109-year-old competition, which returned this season following a two-year pandemic hiatus. They’ve met twice before in the cup, both early-round matches going the way of the Red Bulls.
“It’s always a special one when you have the chance to be the hero in your area,” Struber said of facing a rival in a cup match. “It’s always a special emotion in derbies and rivalries like that. We want in the end that the city in the soccer world is red.”
This year, the Red Bulls cruised to the quarterfinal with wins over Hartford Athletic, D.C. United and Charlotte FC. NYCFC topped Rochester NY FC before a Round of 16 extra-time win over the New England Revolution to reach this matchup.
With a semifinal in reach, both teams appear to be taking the chance at a trophy seriously. Even with an unrelenting league schedule resuming at the weekend, the teams’ top players are expected to participate. NYCFC interim coach Nick Cushing indicated Sunday some of his substitutions during the team’s MLS win over Colorado were partially motivated by the upcoming matchup.
“There’s a lot of games coming up,” Cushing said. “Maybe we have one eye on the Red Bull game, maybe we have one eye on the fact there’s a game every two days coming up. We have to make sure that we keep freshness in the team.”
Struber said Tuesday he doesn’t expect to rotate his squad much at this stage of a single-elimination competition.
“In the quarterfinal, we have no time for experiments,” Struber said. “I always arrange for rotation and have a big trust in all my players, but I think for the setup tomorrow, it’s not the twist.”