Both New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls line up ahead of the national anthem on the field at Yankee Stadium (Credit: Michael Battista)
The New York Red Bulls and New York City FC lineup ahead of their Major League Soccer regular season match at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, September 17 (Credit: Michael Battista)

As one New York Red Bulls fan put it on Twitter; there’s nothing to take away from the team’s 2-0 loss to the New York City FC. However it isn’t because of the field size as they went on to say. No, Saturday’s result spoke more to a team that wasn’t ready to play.

Gerhard Struber’s guarantee of a win during a mid-week press conference spoke to a Bulls team that was already looking towards the international break. And comments from defender Daniel Edelman after the game spoke to that.

“Right from the start it was a battle and then we gave up a goal a minute in and it showed that (NYCFC) were ready to play, and I don’t think we were ready right from the beginning,” Edelman said. “At the end of the day, we just needed more energy and enthusiasm. We can’t have our heads down or show any sort of fear being down 2-0 in the 70th minute, we still have to show that there’s hope and that we can come back from the deficit. We can obviously take a break and now we look forward to the next few games and close out the season strong.”

Of note, this is the first time New York City FC has swept the New York Red Bulls in the regular season Hudson River Derby. This result followed a 1-0 loss back in July at Red Bull Arena. In 2017, RBNY also lost twice as well but tied, 1-1, in a third regular season meeting.

NYCFC scored in the first 60 seconds of the match. The Bulls weren’t ready to play right then and there. Coming into a derby, no matter where it is in the schedule, with that mindset is near criminal.

But the overall picture speaks even more. RBNY’s starting XI included Aaron Long, Caden Clark, and Daniel Edelman. All three were recently named to U.S. national teams at various levels. If this game mattered, their performances might have hurt their chances of getting on that roster. Clark rarely touched the ball for more than a moment. He was simply a pass through man instead of a play maker. Edelman was near invisible until his yellow card late in the second half. But Long’s performance was everything USMNT Twitter is scared of. He looked lost and his positioning was off especially during City’s second goal. Over the game, he did get better. But it was a bad performance during what was the critical stage of the match.

So how bad was the start? In 40 seconds NYCFC had the ball, got down field, and got a corner kick. Maxi Morález kicked it into play where Santiago Rodríguez did chip pass with a half bicycle kick. Alexander Callens headed in the high pass just as he did on Wednesday night in the Campeones Cup against Mexico’s Atlas F.C..

I think many fans, media, and even the Bulls themselves thought New York City would be tired after a midweek cup final. If they’d lost, City would be exhausted and depressed. Since they won, they would be distracted and still have a cup hangover. No, City used the momentum and picked apart their rivals. Outplayed them right away.

Instead, RBNY was the one looking ahead. The team clinched a playoff berth on Wednesday night thanks to Atlanta United FC’s win over Orlando City SC. Perhaps it was the visitor’s who came into this game less than focused because the season’s goal had been reached. Sure, making the playoffs for a 13th straight season is impressive. Doubly so after so many MLS pundits thought the group was going to finish in the lower half of the table. But after Saturday’s performance you’d be hard pressed convincing me the team hadn’t felt their mission was already complete.

Speaking on the formation, the Bulls came out with the best lineup available. Dru Yearwood’s suspension means other players had to step up. Clark got a spot in the Starting XI as a top midfielder while Cristian Cásseres Jr. played back. Talent like this should mean some decent build up through the middle of the field.

Instead New York never used the midfield well. All their passes in the first half to the forwards were straight shots. The offense never diverted from attacking in straight lines. No creativity at all. The second half saw some build-up around the top of the box but that almost felt like City allowing the visitors to get into it. It didn’t feel… earned.

The team’s best chance to score came in the 11th minute while still trailing 1-0. Coming down the left side Lewis Morgan crossed the ball into the box. NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson punched it away but went to ground in the process. Luquinhas recovered the rebound, held the ball as he moved to the center of the box, and chipped in the goal. A City defender cleared the ball off the line before Cásseres Jr. followed it up with a high shot.

That was the Bulls only shot on goal the entire game. There was a called back goal in the 39th minute. But Elias Manoel was clearly offside when Aaron Long headed up a corner kick towards him. A quick VAR check kept the game at 2-0.

Speaking of that second goal, it was also frustrating. Morález corner kicked into the box where a loose ball was approached by two RBNY players. Meanwhile, the defense was punched up into pockets. Gabriel Pereira high passed into the box, where three grouped up Bull defenders couldn’t get the ball before it fell to Santiago Rodríguez. He was able to get the ball controlled and score past Carlos Coronel from five yards out.

“It’s normally absolutely not what we show on set pieces, we are in the league one of the best teams in defensive behavior and in defensive structure,” Struber said after the match. As Once A Metro editor Ben Cork mentioned on Twitter after the match the team has only allowed four goals directly from set pieces. But goals off second attempt once balls have been cleared have cost points in four games now, including the U.S. Open Cup semifinal.

“This killed us today, this is very painful that set pieces made the difference, but it’s a big part in a football game and we were in these moments a little bit sleepy.”

The moment that broke the rationale came in the 81st minute.  Down two goals, Gerhard Struber elected to take off Luquinhas, a striker, for a defender in Andrés Reyes. When asked about it after the game, Struber said Luquinhas was “outstandingly tired”.

“We think maybe we could find one or other good chance when we come over the right areas with the wing backs in a good position. And in the end, we have not only one striker, we have two strikers in the end line.”

That other striker was Tom Barlow. Someone who isn’t inspiring confidence when he replaced Elias Manoel in the 61st minute. If making the game a one striker affair falls on Barlow, he never seemed ready to do that today. He had no shots at all in the half hour he played and was only 50% on passing.

“But yeah… the plan was not the most successful plan in this game.”

Maybe you can take some things away from this match. But I just don’t want to. I don’t think the team wants to think about this match either. They didn’t seem as though they thought about it before the opening whistle. The international break separates the New York Red Bulls from their final two matches of the regular season. That includes a road tilt against the Columbus Crew and the final homestand against Charlotte FC.

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