Wednesday, June 14, brings the New York Red Bulls face to face with noisy neighbor New York City FC. It will be the first US Open Cup match of the year for both teams - and the last for one of them. It’s also the first time these teams are meeting in a competitive game outside the MLS regular season, and the first of four games between the two sides this summer: all three of their scheduled match-ups in the league will be played in a two-month stretch between June 24 and August 25. Whatever happens in this USOC game, it will quickly be assimilated into the broader narrative of a mid-summer, trans-Hudson rivalry.
In the context of the Cup, both teams might count themselves a little unfortunate to be drawn together at a relatively early stage for MLS clubs. This year’s USOC fourth round sees top-flight teams enter the draw, and most can look forward to matches against lower-league opponents. The round traditionally produces an upset or two, as half-strength MLS sides are toppled by more motivated opposition. But many MLS teams (including both NYCFC and RBNY) have rosters depleted by the ongoing round of June international matches, and those absences will perhaps be more keenly felt against a top-flight opponent.
Nonetheless, the Red Bulls have to make the best of the draw they have been handed, and perhaps one benefit is there is no opportunity to underestimate the opposition. If RBNY wants to progress in this tournament, it knows it has to start out strong because it is facing about as strong an opponent as USOC could find for it at this stage of the competition.
“It’s a good team. I’ve heard them say things like this is the best team they’ve had and I agree with that,” said Jesse Marsch, “It’s been an up and down season for just about every team except maybe Toronto FC. They’re good, but they will miss some guys for international duty like us - in some of the same positions, but I think it sets up for a great game. And a game that we’re really excited for and we know that we will get their best as they know they will get our best.”
NYCFC is still looking for its first win at Red Bull Arena - and this would doubtless be a preferred way for the team to change that record. A win on RBNY’s field would bounce the Red Bulls from USOC, providing NYCFC with double-bragging rights, at least until the teams meet again in the league.
”I think this will be a big occasion because both of us want to win the Cup and both of us have a lot to prove against each other.”,said Mike Grella, “They are better than they have been in the past and they look really good, so we are prepared for them and we are excited for the match-up.”
NYCFC’s existence only stretches back to 2015, and its two Cup campaigns to date have both ended the same way: bounced by New York Cosmos. But the Cosmos are no longer in this competition, and NYCFC enters USOC looking as strong and in-form as it ever has in its history.
The team still relies heavily on the scoring of David Villa, but it has also developed Jack Harrison into a bona fide top-performer in MLS, and the back line looks more solid than in past seasons - bolstered in part by the addition of former Chicago Fire Keeper Sean Johnson.
For their part, the Red Bulls are strengthening a little, at least on paper. Part of the reason for the team’s up-and-down start to MLS 2017 is a persistent series of injury issues that have unbalanced the squad in key positions. One of those injuries appears to be cleared up: Aurelien Collin sounds like he will be a go for this match against NYCFC. His return at least lightens the load on Damien Perrinelle and Aaron Long - whose breakout season in MLS after a standout year in USL 2016 has been of the few bright spots in RBNY’s stuttering start to the season.
The team has also got encouraging minutes out of another USL-to-MLS success story: Tyler Adams. Returned from a successful stint the U-20 World Cup with the USA in South Korea, Adams has established himself as one-to-watch for those looking past the Russia 2018 for the players who might lead USMNT’s charge at the 2022 World Cup. For now, however, he has to settled back into the rhythm of club play.
“It’s a rivalry game for sure this coming Wednesday against NYCFC, we are going to have a big battle on our hands,” said Adams, “This will be a good experience for me, hopefully this will be my first US Open Cup game and a tournament we want to take seriously and bring a trophy back here.”
The Red Bulls seem eager to get back to business after a 10-day break since there last game. But they will have to take on NYCFC without head coach Jesse Marsch on the sidelines. During the 2-1 fifth round loss at the Philadelphia Union last year, Jesse Marsch was ejected from the game. SBI Soccer’s Glenn Crooks has reported US Soccer will indeed enforce a suspension on Marsch for this game - RBNY’s first USOC match since the coach was sent off in last season’s tournament.
So assistant coach Chris Armas will guide the Red Bulls through the big game against NYCFC, matching wits with Patrick Vieira. Armas is well-regarded within RBNY by players and staff. He’ll rise high in fans’ estimation if he can see the team through to the next round of USOC.