The South Ward displays a Misfits’ inspired tifo ahead of the New York Red Bulls’ match against New York City FC on Sunday, July 17 (Credit: Michael Battista)

The New York Red Bulls’ looked unsure of themselves on Sunday night. Against rival New York City FC the team controlled much of the game but struggled to make convincing attempts at goal. The packed crowd at Red Bull Arena instead saw the latest Hudson River Derby go to the visitors, 1-0, behind a Taty Castellanos goal.

Head coach Gerhard Struber and his team came into the game within striking distance of the Eastern Conference top spot. The coach said afterwards he thinks he group played well for a majority of the game.

“We dominated, I think 50, 55 or 60 minutes in a very good direction, and we waste a lot today,” he said during a post-game press conference. “I would say the staggering structure, the behavior in our football made so many moments click. But I think the situation, especially when we speak about follow action after high ball — I would say not always the right decision.”

Coming out with a starting XI that didn’t include Patryk Klimala or Tom Barlow up top, the team did have the visiting City stumped for most, if not all, of the first half. The offense ran through players like Dylan Nealis and John Tolkin. Regular scorer Lewis Morgan also worked well along the wing to drive attacks.

One play by the other Nealis brother in the 11’ saw Dylan run for a long pass up the right side of the field. While he was stopped by a NYCFC defender, the arena reverberated as he neared the ball. The announced attendance of 25,219, which would be a sellout, might not be fully accurate considering a few empty patches of seats, but it’s still the best crowd the team has had this season. A source claimed the morning of the game over 22,000 tickets had been sold – something a bit closer to the truth. Regardless, the atmosphere in the arena and packed South Ward was unreal.

By the time RBNY earned its fifth corner kick in the 16th minute the fan’s expected a goal to eventually come. Unlike the last Hudson River Derby last month in the U.S. Open Cup this match wasn’t stuttered by fouls. In fact the first yellow card only came late in the half after a foul by NYCFC’s Alfredo Morales.

As the half wore on the game City’s attacks started to become more consistent. Malte Amundsen & Talles Magno on the left side were the main focal points of the offense as they inched closer to Carlos Coronel in goal. While their shots towards him were limited to about two in the first 45 neither seemed destined for the back of the net. Likewise while the Red Bulls’ offense struggled to keep balls on the ground their foe in net did a commendable job. NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson earned the clean sheet in what was essentially a duel between him and Coronel. However the USMNT star saw most of the shots go over the crossbar such as Nealis’ in the 37th.

His first big save of the match came in the 38th minute when he was forced to cover a low attempt from the left side. That play was followed up with a City attack along the left side of the field ending with a shot into the side of Coronel’s net. A quick reminder of just how quick and devastating the visitor’s could be on transition.

Halftime is where the game really began to slip away from Struber and company. After a hot start to the half including a tussle between Johnson and Frankie Amaya, the first substitutions were made. Barlow entered the match in the 57th minute for Bronx native Omir Fernandez. Taking out a solid player number 9 in an attempt to push more offense makes sense on paper. However in practice from that point on the team struggled to get balls up into the forwards field of play. The number of corner kicks decreased and overall the pace started to faver City.

By the 69th minute the game was still back and forth but a far cry from the possession domination the Bulls’ had been experiencing. Allowing City that much room is one of the reasons Coronel believes they scored.

“The reason was we left a lot of space around us,” he said via a translator after the match. “The pass was incredible and as we all know Castellanos had a great goal. We had a really good first half but I think we were just missing the last ass at the end.”

The goal started with Santiago Rodríguez sending a long ball towards the box. Castellanos was able to beat Sean Nealis with an extended right leg. He redirected the pass past Coronel for the game’s only goal. It came just after he attempted a bicycle kick that required the Brazilian keeper to make a diving save.

Transfer rumors continue to swirl around Castellanos’ status with NYCFC. It seems that Taty’s final act for the blue NYC team will be a derby winning goal.

Things only seemed to get worse from there for the Bulls. Additional substitutes such as Cameron Harper and Serge Ngoma only served to clog up once reliable ball lanes. The midfield wasn’t as quick and opted to play back or frantically pass up with short looks. These lead to City either pressing up or intercepting balls near regularly. By the time Klimala and Edelman entered the match in the 80th minute it was too late. Edelman saved a game sealing goal after Coronel was caught out of the box. The defender headed out a chip shot on the line late in the game.

Overall, Struber’s tactical approach and substitutions cost New York valuable points. The last Hudson River Derby was notiable because City trotted out a B starting lineup with starters eventually coming in. At full strength, the blue team had more depth to counter whatever the Bulls were trying to do. RBNY has been in the news as of late regarding it’s roster departures. However, none of those players would have been notable enough to make a difference in this game. In the end these same pieces could have earned a result against City. It’s just how they were played.

One other aspect of the match that should be mentioned is the honoring of former RBNY goalkeeper Luis Robles. The former team captain was celebrated with a postgame ceremony. There he became the initial entrant into the team’s Ring of Honor. While much can be said about the presentation and format of the ceremony (which I plan to go into later this week), the sentiment was felt. Robles’ speech to fans that remained in the arena was heartfelt. He thanked his parents and former coach as well as every member of the RBNY fanbase.

The team returns to action on July 24. A road match against leading Western Conference side Austin FC awaits them.

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