The New York Red Bulls don’t have a lot of time to celebrate their US Open Cup triumph over New York City FC: Wednesday’s 1-0 win is quickly followed by a return to league action - a return to Talen Energy Stadium, the place where the team’s season arguably took a turn for the worse.
Back in May, faced with a double-game week, head coach Jesse Marsch prioritized the visit to Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia over the preceding trip to in-form Western Conference power Sporting Kansas City. A second-string side duly lost in KC, but a full-strength RBNY was supposed to make up for it against a struggling Union. It didn’t work out as planned: the Red Bulls lost 3-0, sparking a return to form for Philadelphia. And RBNY slumped through May and early June, winning just one of the six games they played between that game in KC and their June 3 trip to Montreal.
Speaking after training on Friday, June 16, Jesse Marsch told reporters he and the team were focused on giving a better account of themselves in this second run against the Union:
The bigger reflection will be the past match and what happened in that game. We’ll continue to go after the, we’ll continue to press them, we’ll try to put them on their heels. Last time, I thought we controlled much of the game and we just couldn’t capitalize on any games. The 3-0 scoreline certainly wasn’t reflective of the match.
The Red Bulls expect to find Philadelphia as hungry for a win as it was the last time these teams met. Despite the fact RBNY’s generosity on its last visit kicked the Union into a run of four straight wins, Philly has since slumped to back-to-back losses and is currently sitting 10th in the East, four points below the Red Bulls.
But it’s not league position that drives the Union when RBNY comes to town. Marsch admitted that the Red Bulls have come to accept that - whether they feel the same way or not - Philadelphia treats RBNY games as rivalry games:
There’s plenty of history, I think there’s a big rivalry. Let’s call it what it is: we are a bigger rival to them than they are to us and so we have to understand that and understand that when we play them, we have to be up for it the same way we are for our biggest rivals.
Yes - Is there blood and bad blood in it? Yeah - they’ve knocked us out of the Open Cup, we know we have them in the Open Cup a couple of weeks later. We know what to expect: we know what it’s like to play down there; their fans don’t like us; we’ll have a big showing from our fans. We’ll make sure that we’re ready to play better than we did last time and get a result.
As Marsch noted, this game is also given a little added intensity by the fact that these teams have been drawn together in US Open Cup - yet again. For the third year in a row, the Red Bulls will play the Union in USOC, and the Union has knocked the RBNY out of the tournament in both of the last two seasons.
The Red Bulls’ late-June schedule looks very samey at the moment: NYCFC in the Cup on June 14; Union in MLS on June 18; NYCFC in MLS on June 24; Union in the Cup on June 28. It’s a strange run of games, and not one that Marsch necessarily thinks reflects well on the organizers of the sport in this country:
I think the league has to now co-ordinate with US Soccer. If we are going to have a regional system in the US Open Cup, then they have to get away from having regional [league] games around the June/July time period.
If we win against Philadelphia in the fifth round and New England win, we have a road match in New England on July 5th - and then face them again in the Quarterfinals July 11th.
It’s ridiculous to play six games against the same three opponents, I know there has been plenty of talk about US Soccer going with this regional system. I don’t know if it’s to simplify the schedule, but it doesn’t make it an interesting tournament if you play the same teams all the time.
The Red Bulls will, of course, make the best of it.
And Marsch wasn’t so focused on the matches ahead that he couldn’t find a moment to reflect on the significance of Father’s Day - which falls on the same day he’ll be leading RBNY against the Union.
I introduced my family to soccer. My Dad - I got to tell you - him and my Mom drove to the ends of the earth to watch my brother and I play: so that’s the contribution from them. They loved watching us, driving all over the Mid-West to watch our games. My Dad was such a big supporter of my brother and I playing.
A very happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there from Once A Metro - we hope you get the result you want on Sunday (as long as that result involves RBNY winning).