HANOVER, N.J. — The last chapter of the Hudson River Derby was written a month ago, when the New York Red Bulls rolled to a 4-0 win over New York City FC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup at Red Bull Arena.
A month earlier, also in Harrison, New York’s red side fired an impressive and decisive opening salvo in the third year of the heated rivalry, winning by the same scoreline.
And yet, when the teams meet again Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, the 13th edition will have a vastly different feel to it.
For the first time, there will be new managers in charge for both teams with Domè Torrent getting his first taste of the derby as NYCFC coach after Patrick Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice and Chris Armas making his head coaching debut for the Red Bulls after Jesse Marsch left to “pursue other opportunities” in Europe on Friday.
Some might think a coaching upheaval 48 hours before a derby match is a nightmare. Bradley Wright-Phillips calls it “perfect.”
“These things, in some places, you can dwell on things like this,” said the Red Bulls forward, who has 11 goals in 10 league matches vs. NYCFC. “That’s the last thing we need to do. We have a great head coach now, he knows what’s happening here, knows how things work and coming with his own ideas and to play someone that we can’t afford to take any losses against is perfect for us.”
Because Armas has spent the last three-and-half years as a Red Bulls assistant coach and is intimately aware of the system, tactics and personnel, Red Bulls captain Lus Robles believes his team is better equipped to deal with a midseason coaching change than NYCFC.
“They’re going through something very similar. They’ve had a change and something that’s different is their guy is completely different. It’s not as if he’s been integrated into the organization and familiar,” Robles said of Torrent’s hire at NYCFC. “He’s not acquainted with the players, he has to learn the personalities, he has to formulate his own style, yet Chris can hit the ground running. To us, it’s advantageous he’s already been a part of the process and everything we’ve been doing the last three-and-a-half years.”
In fact, Robles thinks the change will not only fail to be a distraction, but believes it will galvanize his team on Sunday.
“It’s amazing the first game he’s going to be our head coach is against New York City and I know he is absolutely going to spearhead the effort of this group in a way that’s going to take us to the next level,” Robles said. “I’m excited to see what happens.”
Torrent said on Thursday it was his belief that the Red Bulls are the best team in MLS and it would seem the statistics would back up that claim.
While Atlanta United sit in first place in the Eastern Conference ahead of the weekend’s action, the Red Bulls are five points off the pace with three games in hand. New York’s average of two points per game is second only to FC Dallas, a team they just defeated, 3-0, at Red Bull Arena two weeks ago.
The Red Bulls also defeated the Five Stripes, 3-1, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on May 20.
Certainly there’s no arguing the Red Bulls success in the Hudson River Derby this season. While the rivalry trended blue a season ago when NYCFC went 2-0-1 in league play, the pair of lopsided wins a month apart this year have Red Bulls fans proudly claiming “New York is red.”
However, Wright-Phillips knows how dangerous NYCFC could be coming off back-to-back defeats.
“I’ve said it before, when you lose to that team or they lose to us, it’s almost an anger you have inside for the next game,” he said. “It’s hard to compete with. It’s like when they beat us that time when we hadn’t lost to them [in 2016]. It was only a matter of time before they came out and really gave us a game. I expect one like that this weekend.”
Both teams have been stellar at home this season, but NYCFC have been slightly better, winning seven of eight games this season without defeat. They’ve outscored opponents 21-4 in the Bronx this season with Atlanta United the only team able to take a point from Yankee Stadium, and that was in a 1-1 draw in which NYCFC dominated.
“They’ve just been amazing at home,” Robles said. “We look at their record and see that they’re 7-0-1 and we have to give them their due respect and yet there’s a little part of us thinking ‘man, it would be really nice to be the first team to win at their place.’”