It's Rivalry Week in Major League Soccer once again. And for the New York Red Bulls that means, of course,
D.C. United New York City FC New England Revolution. To be fair to MLS, while the league may (more than) occasionally overreach in its efforts to hype almost every match-up as a big game, RBNY and the Revs do have history. And not just because they are the original MLS manifestations of one of the great American sports rivalries. Revs/RedBulls is by no means Yankees/Red Sox, or even Jets/Patriots, Knicks/Celtics, or Rangers/Bruins. But it is a New York-Boston contest nonetheless, and the Revs have a habit of popping in inconvenient places in RBNY's history.
Consider the MetroStars very first home game: the 1-0 loss to the Revs that spawned the "Curse of Caricola" - the hex it would take the team 18 seasons to shake off. Or consider the 2005 post-season, the last playoffs contested by MetroStars before Papa Red Bull came to town and brought a new club name with him. The MetroStars carried a 1-0 lead into the second leg at Gillette Stadium, and made that a two-goal lead on aggregate after about an hour of play. Thirty minutes or so from advancing, the MetroStars were cut down by three goals in 15 minutes, and the Revs marched all the way to (lose) the MLS Cup final.
More recently, there was the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. Remember when Jermaine Jones hacked his way around Red Bull Arena, bizarrely evading a yellow for attempting to bisect Dax McCarty, and scored the match-winner in the first leg? It was the same game - for an infraction that didn't even amount to a foul according a recent ruling on a similar incident by PRO's Paul Rejer - Bradley Wright-Phillips got carded and suspended for the second leg.
And despite that infuriating double-standard, the Red Bulls fought their way back into the series - but fell short once again of the MLS Cup final (another final the Revs would lose). And this time, Thierry Henry dropped the mic and ended his playing career.
So there is history between Revs and Red Bulls. The team that initiated Caricola's curse also ended the RBNY careers of the captain (Henry) and coach (Mike Petke - for the 2014 Eastern Conference Final games were his last in charge of the team) that reversed the curse and saw the Red Bulls lift a meaningful trophy for the first time in their history.
"These are the types of games that you can throw out the records because there are a lot of history between the two clubs and so we know that we will get New England's absolute best," said Jesse Marsch, eyeing this weekend's latest installment of the Red Bulls-Revs match-up. "That's what makes these games fun, since I've been here and pre-dating me. On the field there will be a lot of energy and I still know that's a very dangerous team with very good attacking players and a desperate team that needs points and results."
The team doesn't have to go very far back into the past to find motivation to beat the Revs. It was April Fools' Day of this year that New England pranked RBNY by using an injured Kemar Lawrence as cover for a counter-attack that brought the Revs a 1-0 win.
"That adds a bit of a twist with what happened to Kemar; there's defiinitely a bit of pay-back that's due to them because of the situation and sort of playing naïve about it," said Luis Robles, "That was a very strange and very unsportsmanlike situation and for them to play dumb about it was also kind of strange. But all that matters is that we need to get the full three points."
To get those three points, RBNY will need its back line to keep the Revs' scoring threats quiet. Aurelien Collin is very well acquainted with the talents of New England forward Kei Kamara.
"He's a very good player, jumps very high and very dangerous, so it is a great challenge for me personally and the team that we have to take on a special player like Kei Kamara," said Collin, "Very excited about it and it's a very important game for us and it's another three points. Playing at home is always [better] than playing away and we need to stay undefeated."
Whatever the result against the Revs, the Red Bulls might be celebrating a couple of victories before kick-off: both Dax McCarty and Damien Perrinelle are well ahead of their projected recovery schedules, sufficiently healed to be in the frame for selection to the 18-man roster for the game. Neither is ready to start but Marsch expects to be able to re-integrate his club captain and senior center back back into the squad. It is just a question of when that process begins.