As MLS Decision Day 2020 loomed larger than it might ever have across the league, New York was flexing its soccer muscles, seeing what it had to go into the playoffs with.
This form of the areal exhibition is called the Hudson River Derby. One of the most fervent rules of derby day is that when you have a combination of history, pedigree, and positions for both bragging rights and your season, you have got to show up and prove yourself. We showed up, we stayed in it, and even had a lead when we showed the Pigeons how a proper and united New York Red Bull team hits back.
When you have a high-quality all-rounder like NYCFC captain Alexander Ring pulling blasts like the one he did in the 51st minute past a flailing Tim Meara, that fortitude could be critically punctured. However, as the 5-2 scoreline indicates, that wasn’t the only reason we lost on Sunday night.
Derby Day Drawbacks
Loose in the Back
The Red Bulls lacked consistent defensive discipline all night. You can argue on Ring’s goal that there was space in front of him and that someone should have been closer to Maxi Morales. However, the Bulls were doing defense by the committee and were a little confused by Morales’ movement as they didn’t want to make the mistake of letting him or Ring in behind with possible runs off each other.
That being said, the fourth goal was a little much for me. Captain Tim Parker was lackadaisical in getting after Gary Mackay-Steven and although it was a fast and pressured sequence, Aaron Long was ball-watching a little too much as shown with his positioning on Mackay-Steven’s cross to Medina and his late recognition to contest Castellanos’ shot.
All the way around, NYCFC had quality Tuesday night. This carries more weight considering the fact that Heber is out for the season with a torn ACL. And what’s better? Castellanos not only was the star of the night with a hat trick and an assist but now he is the team’s top scorer.
With the weight of injury, players coming into their own at the right time, the critical leadership by Ring, and the subsequent lift from it, the Pigeons were simply the better team that night.
The situation is pretty simple: The Red Bulls are in the fight for 6th; they are guaranteed at least 8th. They are level with Nashville and a full game back of New England. The schedule is simple as well: Red Bulls face Toronto F.C., Nashville faces Orlando City F.C., and the Revolution face Philadelphia.
From my standpoint, I want as far away from the wild card as possible so that we can have some rest and a proper mindset going into these playoffs. We have a chance to face Montreal, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, or D.C. in the wild card and Orlando or Columbus in the next round. All these teams have varying degrees of expression, so we will have to be set up for any situation that arises.
Playing Styles, with Recommendations
Potential Opponents (Wild Card)
- 9th placed Montreal is a combination-based, hard-working team that runs everything through their midfield. Their strikers can pop up anywhere, from the drop back to draw defenders out to drifting wide and stretching the defense from upfront. I would be wary of this team both historically and tactically because this team beat us 3-1 or aggregate four years ago and they could pull our rock-solid center back pairing of Tim Parker and Aaron Long every which way, which won’t be good for the defense. For this reason, I would avoid this matchup.
- 10th placed Chicago is a fast and energetic team where the center of the park is their conscience, with Gaston Gimenez and Medran pulling the strings. Compared to the Red Bulls’ central midfield, are just as hard-working, complete, and difference-making as they are. I would be up for this match while still trying to avoid it.
- 11th placed Atlanta is a mercurially slick, tactically astute team, even without Josef Martinez and Marcelino Moreno, both devastating injuries. Having gone through us for the MLS Cup two years back and retained most of the same core with the experienced leadership of Jeff Larentowicz and Brad Guzan to keep the team grounded, I personally would avoid this as much as possible despite the team’s struggles this year.
- 12th placed Inter Miami are a team that reflects their city: exciting, electric, with flair, and with quality all the way around. They have a talisman in Gonzalo Higuain and an all-around core behind him led by playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro. The Red Bulls are the same type, but with more fortitude in their game; they can take this team.
- 13th placed D.C. are hard-working livewires on a mission. They finally get their talisman Paul Arriola back against Montreal. They also present the same problem that Montreal presents to the Red Bulls, especially Yordy Reyna and Ola Kamara playing off of one another to get in behind Long, Parker, and the Red Bull defense. I would be up for this challenge but I prefer to avoid it.
Potential Opponents (Bye)
- Orlando City just faced off against Columbus for 3rd place and got a crucial 2-1 win thanks to Benji Michel’s 84th minute winner. Bad news, though, they lost captain Nani to a controversial call in the 52nd. With that, Orlando City will have to win 3rd place against Nashville without their captain. They take after their captain in being livewires, especially in the dribble, while still good on both sides of the ball. Nani is only out for one game, so I would suggest the Red Bulls turn up their game for this one.
- Columbus is in 4th place after the loss, but that is nowhere near saying the Red Bulls should play around with this team. Historically, they beat us in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final and the 2008 MLS Cup Final. Style-wise, they are a hard-working, very skilled team that have difference makers across the board. This includes, but is not limited to: Eloy Room, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful, Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Zelarayan, and Gyasi Zardes. They face Atlanta on Sunday in a must-win to retake 3rd. A win will generate momentum so the Red Bulls need to be on their toes for all 90 minutes and extras if necessary.
What It All Means
After all of the snags, near misses, critical stage adversity, and two consecutive streaky seasons, the Red Bulls have to be the ones to step up, stand up, and be counted. They face a Toronto team that plays a similar style to them except they have more quality and are 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. What’s more, they could face them in the playoffs and have, losing only to a Sebastian Giovinco free kick in 2017 to go out on away goals.
Lastly, they have kept much of the same core, especially Altidore and Bradley. A win gives NYRB a chance to pass New England with a Revolution loss to Philadelphia.
A loss has a good chance to leave us in 8th behind Nashville. We could also stay 7th, so there are no guarantees.
Thus, for all intents and purposes, they had better bring their A-game and watch themselves.
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