New York Red Bulls’ captain Aaron Long congratulates teammate Omir Fernandez on his goal against New York City FC in the Quarterfinals of the 2022 U.S. Open Cup at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, June 22 (Credit: New York Red Bulls)

The latest edition of the Hudson River Derby is best summed up by New York Red Bulls defender John Tolkin. The New Jersey native, smiling ear to ear after the game, went over the incident that saw New York City FC player Thiago Andrade sent off with a red.

“(Thiago) was walking away and I was just kinda saying ‘what’s up bro? Why you kick him?’ and he came after me,” he explained. “He put his hands on me and I was thinking ‘why me, I’m just gonna laugh in your face bro. You don’t need to be getting so mad.’ But yeah… I guess I egged him on a little bit too much.”

Going down to 10-men while already trailing was too much for the defending MLS Cup Champions on Wednesday night. The New York Red Bulls scored two more goals and advanced to the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, 3-0. The team is now two wins away from its first major cup (not shield!) and a spot in next season’s Champions League.

The loss is New York City’s first in 13 games across all competitions. It’s also the third shutout loss for NYC against RBNY in both all competitions and in USOC play all-together. This quarterfinal match is the latest the two teams have ever met in the competition.

Bronx native and goal scorer from the night Omir Fernandez knows how much this game means. Not just to the fans and not just for the tournament, but for him personally.

“For me, this is a big game. You know, I think for all of us, it’s a big game, but for me, it’s a little bit different,” he said. “Just because of the rivalry and where I’m from, and I have a special connection with the Red Bulls. For somebody to come in, and try to claim that they’re better than us. For me, it always hits different to play against this team.

“For me to go on and score in front of my family, to run to that corner and to see them, a lot of emotions, and to kill the game off three zero and you know, now we move onto the semifinal of the Open Cup, so we’re happy.”

Gerhard Struber continued to show his dedication to this tournament with an opening lineup full of starters. Compared to last Saturday’s match against Toronto the only change was seeing Tom Barlow start up top. After the match the head coach doubled down on his commitment to the competition.

“We are, right now, of course, very happy to realize the goal and the goal was clear, to go in the next round. The competition, the Open Cup for us, is a big point in our season,” he told the media after the game. “My boys, I think especially this game and over the whole game, more than New York City we (wanted) the victory in the end more.”

This is compared to New York City with a mixed back starting lineup. Between the regular season and Open Cup, head coach Ronny Deila has swapped the roster often. In particular U.S. national team goalkeeper Sean John was on the bench in lue of Luis Barraza. Others like Maxi Moralez and Héber also started on the sideline, with the former coming in as a second half substitute.

“I think the only questionable change would be the goalkeeper,” he said, going on to say starters on the night have played in MLS games. “I wouldn’t question their involvement in the game. I would be, and I have been, comfortable putting them in our starting eleven.”

In the stadium, both crowds were electric. The not-so-far traveling NYCFC supporters came in force in the arena’s upper bowl. Easily, they were the largest away contingent the Bulls have faced this season. On the home front, much like the game against Toronto FC last weekend, this game too had a ticket deal. The chance to see FC Barcelona almost certainly helped bring fans out for the mid-week rivalry clash. The crowd of 12,575, a USOC attendance record at Red Bull Arena, kept the atmosphere alive even when the game lacked in pomp.

The pace of the match never kicked into high gear during the first half. Head official Matthew Thompson halted play multiple times for fouls, probably in an attempt to keep heads cool during a heated rivalry game. However the official, who isn’t typically an MLS referee, began producing cards quickly. NYCFC’s Keaton Parks, Santiago Rodríguez, and Malte Amundsen all went into the books in a seven minute span. The latter’s takedown of Luquinhas from behind was especially heinous but overall the pace of the match suffered.

Both teams mentioned this after the game. Going further, City head coach Ronny Deila said his team struggled to adapt.

“(The Red Bulls) style of play disrupts games,” he said after the match. He also noted that he thinks the referee’s could have carded the Bulls far more early on. He specifically called out the three to one card ratio at the end of the first half as something that didn’t feel right.

On offense neither team looked posed to score the opening goal to start. The Red Bulls attempted to cross into the box but lacked players in the final third to finish shots. Brazilian forward Luquinhas played more back of Barlow and Lewis Morgan and was hunting for a final connection during the first 45 minutes. Their best chance came in the 43rd minute off a scramble in the box.

Lewis Morgan, fighting off two defenders, couldn’t fully connect on a shot at the top of the box. The ball trickled towards Cristian Cásseres Jr., who shot from the spot low and was saved by Luis Barraza. John Tolkin got under the rebound but his shot went far right out of play.

For City the main advantage in the early game was possession. The defending MLS Cup champions out-possessed the Bulls by far in the first half. Despite this they never traveled deep enough into the other team’s end to get a shot on goal. Their best chances came late in the half. First, Gabriel Pereira got a break down the right and crossed to Thiago Andrade. The ball was just a step ahead of the player with only Carlos Coronel to beat. Then in stoppage time Pereira again had a chance to cross, this time getting the ball past a diving Coronel but not finding any teammates to tap it into the open net.

In the second half, Struber kept his formation the same and eventually it paid off. A Tom Edwards free kick in the 52nd minute was headed down by captain Aaron Long. The ball bounced towards goal where Lewis Morgan ran up and punched it in for the lead, 1-0.

The game fell apart from here for New York City. Heavy challenges and a alack of chances wore on the team. Eventually in the 62nd, Thiago had enough and headbutted Tolkin in the RBNY box after the ball was dead. The team never really recovered from that point.

Struber’s substitutions clinched the result. Those players, including the debuting Steven Sserwadda on a short term loan from the reserve team, kept the pressure high on the visitors. That pressure eventually led to yet another crazy Luquinhas goal in the 70th minute.

A long pass by Morgan found substitute Patryk Klimala in the box with only the keeper to beat. His shot was saved but the loose ball was brought down by the Brazilian. He quickly looked at goal, cut around the advancing keeper, before striking from a tough angle past two defenders on the goal line. Both he and Morgan have two goals in the tournament this year.

The final blow came as two players with families in the crowd converged. In the 90th minute, Sserwadda passed the ball up the right side out line into open space. Cameron Harper, who subbed in with him, ran onto it. He crossed the ball and passed an NYCFC defender to Fernandez who set himself up and shot into the right side of the net past the diving keeper.

A few sections up from that right corner, Harper’s mother and friends from Hoboken FC 1912, cheered on. They’d picked this spot specifically because they knew he trained in that corner as a substitute. If he was going to come in, it would be during the second half… meaning the right winger would be attacking right in front of them.

With the result locked, tempers flared after the final whistle. City’s Maxi Moralez and RBNY’s Tom Edwards saw red cards for an altercation at midfield. Moralez threw a punch but Edwards also retaliated. Coach Struber knows missing Edwards for the semifinals next month will be tough. However, he also knows Edwards is an experienced player. If he was going to retaliate, he believes his player was pushed well over the line for anything to happen.

Outside of that, the team was ecstatic after the game. Cheers and yelling could be heard from the locker room with Tolkin saying he nearly sustained an injury because of it.

“The guys were fired up. Carlos (Coronel) came into the locker room a little bit late, he was screaming stuff and he kicked a water bottle and it flew right into my face, but I’ll let it go,” he laughed.

The Bulls will face either Orlando City SC or Nashville SC in the semifinals on July 26–27. Those two teams will play their quarterfinal match on June 29. A draw tonight will determine who hosts the semifinals and eventual final.

On the other side of the tournament bracket, the last remaining non-MLS teams competed in quarterfinal matches as well. Second division Sacramento Republic FC beat LA Galaxy, 2-1, on the road to reach the final four. Meanwhile third division Union Omaha fell to Sporting Kansas City, 6-0, to end their dream run. Those two winners will meet next month in the semifinals.

New York now looks towards this weekend. A major game on the road against Los Angeles FC could prove to be season-determining. Coming off a win against Toronto and now beating the best team in the Eastern Conference, a win against LAFC may push RBNY into the top of the league discussion.

“We know they’re top of the table, I think for the Supporter’s Shield as well, they know we’re coming off this win,” Fernandez said. “They know we’re coming off Toronto FC. They know what we are capable of as well. They’re going to be focused on us, but we’re just focused on us. We’re not really focused on what we can’t control. We’re just trying to go there and get three points.”

But for Wednesday night, one thing reigned supreme and Fernandez made sure it was said on the record.

“At the end of the day… New York is red.”

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