The New York Red Bulls and New York City FC played to a scoreless draw on Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. The end result might be the only notable thing from the game as both teams left with a single point each. Both Hudson River Derby rivals still sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, under the playoff line. It didn’t help that a holiday and fan apathy kept things quieter for both RBNY and NYCFC. A few notes from Saturday’s match to forget in the Bronx.
Apathy Loves Company
The announced attendance for Saturday’s game in the Bronx was 29,657. This is the third time a game at Yankee Stadium had under 30k fans (however one of those was affected by COVID). However two factors played a big role; the date and the teams. The game was played during Rosh HaShanah, aka the Jewish New Year. Plenty of fans on social media voiced that they couldn’t attend due to religious functions happening during the day.
However more importantly is that both New York teams are not good right now. NYCFC is one place above RBNY in the standings in 12th. Many fans are adamantly pushing for manager Nick Cushing to be fired. Meanwhile the Red Bulls reportedly only sold 70 away tickets for the game. With the team set to miss the playoffs currently and other news, like the Messi shirts, still in people’s minds – many choice not to travel.
Fans that did come to the stadium didn’t miss much. Elias Manoel started up top with Tom Barlow and threatened in the first 15 minutes. But his chances were either saved or wide. Those were some of the only meaningful looks the Red Bulls got early on. New York City controlled possession and kept the ball in the visitor’s end. Captain Sean Nealis was suspended for the match due to a red card from last game. His absence was felt though Hassam Ndam did step up. One presence that wasn’t missed was Troy Lesesne. The head coach was replaced by assistant coach Zach Prince due to yellow card accumulation. However the style RBNY played didn’t feel any different than a typical Troy game. In fact, Lesesne lead both pre and post match press conferences like nothing was different.
John Tolkin was stopped on a set piece and Manoel missed the net in the 22nd minute and again just before first-half stoppage time.
New York City keeper Matt Freese highlighted a three-save performance with a diving redirection on Omir Fernandez in the 75th minute. Fernandez tried a jumping right-footed shot from the center of the box. Freese timed his dive correctly and punched away the ball before the Red Bulls could get the rebound. The Bronx Messi was unable to score his third game winning goal against NYCFC this season. For his part, Carlos Coronel made two saves in his first match back from international duty with Paraguay. He didn’t need to face much though as NYCFC was unable to get a shot on target for over half the game.
Barlow Continues to Struggle
Tom Barlow started Saturday’s match and played 89 minutes. He registered no shots. His pass completion percentage was 57% and his expected goals was 0.08.
Barlow has played in every regular season match this season. He ranks 134th in shots taken by players in Major League Soccer during the 2023 season. On Saturday he felt like a non-factor in RBNY’s attacks.
Now there’s some valid reasons why Barlow has played just north of 1,400 minutes this year. RBNY has had plenty of roster issues. Dante Vanzeir was suspended and now is coming back from a leg injury. Cory Burke was out for international duty and also has had lingering injuries. Lewis Morgan the same thing, injuries all year. Combined that with the younger players New York is trying to integrate into the squad.
Troy Lesesne mentioned that fact when I asked about Barlow following the draw. However he went on to say the forward, in his mind, is critical to RBNY’s system. His speed and ability to draw defenders toward him make him valuable.
“I appreciate the statistic that you gave me. But if you look at the statistics of what he does in relationship to our style of play, he’s an absolute monster,” Lesesne said, referencing the 134th in shot attempts stat. “This guy runs and presses better than any nine in the league. So, if there’s a number one rating for that, I would say he’s number one for that. I know nines are judged on goals. But nines are also judged in our style of play of how you disrupt the opponent high off the field. Do you ever see New York City kick the ball and be direct like they were tonight? Part of that is because they may change tactics because they’re trying to exploit something that they see may be weakened. But also, part of that is because they’re always under pressure. And that’s because of Tom Barlow.
“I can understand the frustration. We’re all frustrated with not scoring more goals, but it doesn’t lie on one player. But I’ll take those questions on all day long for a guy that I see puts everything that he has into every day for this club. So, I’ll back him all day long.”
Playoff Pipe Dreams?
Neither RBNY, nor NYCFC, did anything to help their playoff chances. But no other team did anything to hurt the odds either. D.C. United and Charlotte FC, 9th & 11th in the standings, played to a 0-0 draw. CF Montreal and Chicago Fire FC, 8th and 10th in the East, did the same. Finally the Lionel Messi-less Inter Miami CF lost to Atlanta United FC, 5-2. So the south beach surge to the postseason line is stymied as they remain in 14th.
Again, the New York Red Bulls sit in 13th place with 30 points. NYCFC is just above them with 31 points.
The Red Bulls have two games before the end of the month against teams just above them in the playoff race. First they visit DC on Saturday, Sept. 23 in the second leg of the Atlantic Cup. New York won the first leg of the OG MLS rivalry, 1-0, last month. After that the team hosts Chicago on the 30th in its penultimate home match of the regular season.
“We’re desperate for points, honestly. We need to get them and we need to focus on wins,” Midfielder Daniel Edelman said after the match. “But we’re still focusing on the process. We can’t just resort to ‘ok, we need three points’. That’s never gonna happen. You need to focus on the how. How are we going to get those three points and the process that’s going to get us there?”
Even if RBNY win out the rest of the season they’ll need help to make the playoffs via other teams losing above them.
Hudson River Trophy Comes Home
The disappointing result did have one silver lining. Saturday marked the first time that the Hudson River Derby was played for silverware. After years of planning the two main RBNY supporters’ groups (Empire SC, Viking Army) and NYCFC’s main group (Third Rail) were able to award their prized trophy. Members of the Hudson River Derby Foundation were on hand to present the trophy at pregame.
— New York City Football Club (@NYCFC) September 16, 2023
It follows in the tradition of other MLS rivalry trophies. Those include the Atlantic Cup between RBNY and D.C. United. Others include the Cascadia Cup between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland.
In the grand scheme of things the silverware is an afterthought. Both teams are still below the playoff line. Plus counting previous regular season results, this would be the sixth time the Red Bulls have won the series. This is just the first time a trophy has been awarded for it.
However the symbolic nature is worthy. The three supporter’s groups have worked towards this moment since 2019. Through COVID, multiple head coaches, and one of the teams winning MLS Cup. To have a symbol finally made means something to many of the fans and players involved.
Troy Lesesne knows that, and hopes it can inspire the team to fight further in reaching the postseason.
“For our supporters, they take pride in (winning the trophy). We take pride in that. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle in the season.”