In the end, shifting the Hudson River rivalry from MLS to US Open Cup did little to shift the balance of power in the match-up between New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. The first meeting between the teams in USOC yielded RBNY’s sixth victory in seven games between the two MLS NY sides.
So the grand narrative of a lopsided rivalry continues, for which the Red Bulls have Daniel Royer to thank, first and foremost. The Austrian started the match on the bench but was subbed in at half-time for Mike Grella, and rewarded that decision with a lively, goal-scoring performance.
Royer’s match-winning strike arrived in the 67th minute, and it all started on a press play by Alex Muyl.
Sean Johnson’s distribution was blocked by Muyl putting pressure on Fredric Brillant and then sending it to Bradley Wright-Phillips going for goal. As BWP took the shot Johnson came off his line with a sliding tackle, but the ball popped up in the air and Royer watched it onto his left-foot for a first-time volley past a scrambling NYCFC defense to send Red Bull Arena into a frenzy.
NYCFC had the better chances in the first half and it was little more than good fortune (and maybe the absence of a Video Assistant Referee) that kept the scores level in the first 45 minutes. In the 16th minute, Tommy McNamara nailed the bottom of the crossbar. Twice.
The woodwork came up big for the Red Bulls again as David Villa took his shot on frame that beat Ryan Meara, but clanged off the far post and rebounded to the RBNY ‘keeper.
In the end, Royer’s shot was the only one that counted for either side, and RBNY held on for the 1-0 win and a place in the fifth round of the 2017 US Open Cup.
The night was also significant for being the first time RBNY assistant coach Chris Armas got to play head coach of the first team, as he stood in for the suspended Jesse Marsch. A team-player to his core, Armas dismissed any suggestion that he had influenced the game from the sidelines.
When I found out [that he’d be head coach for the game], to be honest, it was business as usual. I have a specific role to help prepare the team with scouting and video, to prepare the guys for what the opponent is going to be about, help run the sessions, be that secondary voice. That's what it was.
For me, not sure how this will be taken, but I didn't look at this as look at it as this big opportunity. I know it's not about me. It's about the guys tonight.
Ryan Meara has played in many US Open Cup games for the Red Bulls, but starting against the Hudson River rivals - the team he was loaned out to for 2015 - was very special to him and he savored his victory and clean sheet.
“Absolutely. Playing against NYCFC - it’s always going to be a little more special. We look at this cup as a huge opportunity. Tonight is just the first step in the right direction,” said Meara after the game. “The fact that is was my former team definitely made it a little sweeter for me. But I think the main thing is - being behind Luis [Robles] - I don’t get too many opportunities, so when I do get an opportunity I really have to make the most of it. Getting a clean sheet and a win tonight: couldn’t have turned out better.”
These sides will see each other again in about 10 days, on June 24 back at Red Bull Arena. So Patrick Vieira has about a week and a half to figure out how to break RBNY’s hold over his team. He’ll need to wait until next year to see if his club can improve on its 0-3 record in US Open Cup.