The 2017 edition of US Open Cup throws recently-acquainted New York soccer rivals RBNY and NYCFC against each other in the tournament for the first time.
For the New York Red Bulls, the match arrives at an awkward moment in a frustrating season. The club was bounced out of CONCACAF Champions League in the quarterfinals - the opening phase of the knockout rounds - and subsequently lurched into a stuttering league campaign that increasingly seems to have more stop than start.
RBNY is currently sixth in the MLS Eastern Conference: a position of neither triumph nor disaster. There are still the best part of 20 games to play in the regular season, so there is plenty of time to gather momentum for a post-season run. But right now talk of momentum seems a little optimistic: RBNY has won one of its last six league games; the team has gathered four points from the last 24 it has contested. The Red Bulls could use the pick-me-up of a Cup run.
New York City FC has started the year in better form than RBNY, and currently sits third in the Eastern Conference - four points better off than the Red Bulls. While few would question the club's overall ambition - it wants to win trophies, quickly - it remains to be seen just how seriously NYCFC is inclined to take USOC when it has worked itself into an encouraging position in the league. Of course, even a depleted NYCFC might be enough to knock over a demoraized RBNY.
Both teams seem to enjoy the burgeoning rivalry between them, with players and coaches appearing almost eager to nurture grievances and dish out slights. That mutual disdain is expected to raise the level of this game's intensity, even if it is contested by one side not able to find its best and the other not willing to expose its top players to the risk of injury outside MLS competition.