It’s a rivalry that has already captivated Major League Soccer in just two short seasons, but with the 2017 campaign getting set to begin, it’s the first time that New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls are on a level playing field.
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Prior to entering MLS two seasons ago, NYCFC had lofty expectations largely due to the fact that the club plays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a venue that has become synonymous with winning over the years.
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The club has yet to have a great deal of success against their cross-river rivals, but 2017 could be the year that NYCFC breaks that trend.
While the Red Bulls have managed to keep a large portion of its squad together for yet another season, the club did undergo several disturbances during the offseason that could halt the squad’s success.
Below, PST makes the case for both New York-based teams and why each club will finish above the other in the final standings.
Reasons NYCFC will be better than Red Bulls
Two words; David Villa. The way things are shaping up, the former Barcelona attacker could go down as one of the best Designated Player in MLS history. In two seasons with NYCFC, Villa has scored 41 goals while adding 12 assists for the Eastern Conference side, and has additionally served as the club’s captain.
Manager Patrick Vieira made a promise heading into the offseason and he stuck to his word. The Frenchman sought a younger roster, and that’s exactly what he got. While there was a decent amount of turnover within the NYCFC squad this winter, losing the likes of Frank Lampard, Andoni Iraola and others, the club has found suitable options to fill those holes with younger selections.
Among these names are midfielders Miguel Camargo and Alex Ring, as well as attacking Designated Player Maxi Moralez, who joins the team from Liga MX side Club Leon.
It’s unclear who the starting goalkeeper will be ahead of the 2017 season, but Vieira has two pretty solid options at his disposal. Eirik Johansen showed well towards the tail end of the 2016 campaign, and his 6-foot-7 stature is surely beneficial. Meanwhile, adding a savvy, talented veteran like Sean Johnson gives NYCFC a capable first-team choice who could be the NYCFC keeper for years to come.
Villa has been the clear catalyst for the NYCFC attack in the club’s first two years, but the club has a plethora of youthful options that could very well explode this season. Jack Harrison is clearly the first name that comes to mind after taking the league by storm at times during his rookie campaign, while Khiry Shelton enters his third season in the Bronx.
The club also added reigning USL MVP Sean Okoli, first round SuperDraft pick Jonathan Lewis while bringing back Tommy McNamara, who has scored some of the team’s most brilliant goals in its brief history.
Although struggled at times to find their footing at home last season, NYCFC boasted the best road record in MLS at 7-7-3. NYCFC racked up 24 points on the road a season ago, and if the team can finish around .500 away from Yankee Stadium again in 2017 then Vieira’s group will be in a good position.
Reasons Red Bulls will be better than NYCFC
The most compelling argument the Red Bulls make is their brief history against NYCFC. Over six matches in the past two seasons, Jesse Marsch’s side has won five encounters against the Bronx side by a combined score of 18 to 5. Although their May 2016 meeting resulted in a lopsided 7-0 Red Bulls victory, the overall difference in form has been resounding when the two clubs get together.
At the center of it all has been goalscoring extraordinaire Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has notched eight finishes in the six clashes. Wright-Phillips is the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner, and the Englishman has shown no signs of slowing down after already bagging a goal for the Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Additionally, playmaker Sacha Kljestan is coming off of his most productive season ever in MLS after bagging six goals and leading the league in assists with 20. Kljestan has been a driving force for Marsch’s squad since joining the team in 2015, and his quick distribution fits the Red Bulls’ style of play.
The biggest storyline of the entire offseason was likely Dax McCarty’s blockbuster move to the Chicago Fire, and normally it would have been a major discussion because of the player that McCarty is, but luckily for the Red Bulls they have a suitable replacement.
Sean Davis has emerged over the past several seasons as a strong role player in the central midfield, but with McCarty gone, it’s his and Felipe’s midfield to control. Davis has shown he has the size, physicality and awareness to distribute the ball well enough to fill the void, and he’s a significantly younger option for Marsch.
The Red Bulls have benefitted from having a top-notch defense over recent years, but they also boast an elite goalkeeper. Since 2013, Luis Robles has started every single MLS match for the Harrison side, while making 400 regular season saves in that span. Not only is Robles durable, but he is the emotional leader of the backline, which may not appear on a stat sheet but is certainly a valuable asset to have.
Finally, Red Bull Arena may not always draw the crowds that Yankee Stadium does, but it’s been a fortress for the Red Bulls since the club adopted it as its home. Since 2012, the club has won 10 or more matches at home, including finishing with a record of 13-2-2 a season ago at the venue, which accounted for 41 of the team’s 57 total points.Follow @MattReedFutbol