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The best Hudson River Derby games (from a Red Bulls point of view), ranked

From lilting draws to swaggering grand slams, we rank which derbies you enjoyed the most ahead of tomorrow’s pivotal playoff positioner

Soccer - MLS - NYCFC vs. New York Red Bulls
Felipe and Matt Miazga swung for the fences with their banter in 2015.
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Sunday’s edition of the Hudson River Derby (we’re still calling it that, right?) will be its 21st match across all competitions. As time has passed since the rivalry’s 2015 debut, the New York Red Bulls early success in the series has been replaced with more competitive matches against an ever improving New York City FC. Since 2019 RBNY holds only a 3-1-2 record against their city counterparts and overall NYCFC have had better regular season finishes in the Eastern Conference.

Despite that it’s hard not to argue that the Bulls hold some momentum going into Sunday. The six game unbeaten streak, with two of those against City, and playoff push have honestly made soccer fun again in Harrison, and it feels like the perfect time to recharge a rivalry that hit the ground running six years ago.

So in honor of that and the derby hitting blackjack and being able to drink, it seems like an appropriate time to look back. We’ve ranked each match in New York Derby history to see which ones were the sweetest in the eyes of Bull faithful. You’ll probably be able to predict number one, but take a trip down memory lane anyway...

20 - November 1, 2020, NYCFC 5-2 RBNY

Valentin Castellanos. Just saying the name brings back memories of this second half. The less said about this game the better but the “Blue Wedding” was mostly contained to the final 45 minutes. The back and forth contest at a fan-less Yankee Stadium had a 2-2 tie going into halftime. Interim head coach Bradley Carnell lost a five game unbeaten streak and the result soured a promising end of the season stretch.

19 - August 22, 2018, NYCFC 1-1 RBNY

Bar none the most disappointing result the Red Bulls have ever had in this series. Being a man up in a game is bad. Being up two men for nearly twenty minutes and still only getting one point is soul draining. The majority of the 30,000 fans at Yankee Stadium got the grittiest performance they could out of City.

The most physical edition of the derby saw six yellow cards, four going to the Bulls, and two straight reds shown to Eloi Amagat and Ebenezer Ofori. The funny part was Bradly Wright-Phillips scored his team’s lone goal in the 37th minute, three minutes before Amagat was sent off. David Villa nearly tied it in the 45th minute but hit the post, but got his revenge in the second half with a highlight reel mid-air recovery and shot from the top of the box.

The three points were lost after that and this might as well be considered a defeat.

18 - June 24, 2017, RBNY 0-2 NYCFC

In a way this game stings a little more than the above entries because it happened in Harrison. As of publishing, this remains the only time City has ever won a derby at Red Bull Arena (knock on the stump of a California Redwood.) Jack Harrison and Ben Sweat both scored to give NYCFC their second ever win over RBNY in the derby’s history. The visitors controlled the majority of the game while the Red Bulls only got one shot on target. Alex Muyl getting booked for simulation in the box late on resulted in many fans throwing things on the field in probably one of the worst looks the fan base has had in this series.

17 - July 8, 2018, NYCFC 1-0 RBNY

Chris Armas’ first match in charge after Jesse Marsch departed for Europe is weird to look back on. That day in the Bronx was ugly and Maxi Morales’ late winner gave Domènec Torrent his first derby win in only his third match at the helm. The game was a revenge match after two previous 4-0 defeats that year in both the league and U.S. Open Cup.

I can’t fault Armas in this game because the line-up was essentially the same as before and those players did go on to win the Shield. Calling it a sign of things to come is way too far fetched but hindsight makes this loss feel worse.

16 - July 3, 2016, NYCFC 2-0 RBNY

Is it ironic that NYCFC’s first win against the Red Bulls came thanks to goals from Villa and a player named Harrison? The boys in blue finally taking home three points was inevitable and they earned freedom from mockery the day before Independence Day. It’s nothing horrible, not something to look fondly on, but the silver lining is that you can’t have a real rivalry if it’s one-sided.

15 - August 25, 2017, RBNY 1-1 NYCFC

Draws suck but they suck less than losses. This game still sucked and 2017 was still in the worst season the Bulls have had in HRD. This was the only point won by RBNY in the regular season that year and it could have been more. The game was dominated by the home side but Maxi Morales beat Luis Robles for the lead early in the second half. Gonzalo Veron’s bailout PK was nearly saved by Sean Johnson but it still went in.

RBNY were just over a week removed from their USOC Semifinal comeback against then USL-side FC Cincinnati but the feelings were drastically different here. At the moment it was stealing two points from a rival but looking back it’s just a disappointing outcome.

14 - August 24, 2019, NYCFC 2-1 RBNY

Alex Muyl’s early goal getting nullified by a Moralez penalty and second half Héber goal signified something. The series had already been in a back and forth but following the controversy in the previous instalment City stood up and defended Yankee Stadium. They weren’t going to lose a second game in a row and to date the last time one of these team’s did that was in 2018. This match marks the point where it’s less about consistent dominance and more about winning the match.

13 - August 20, 2020, RBNY 1-0 NYCFC

A nice story that even in 2021 someone from Brooklyn can cause pain for a Bronx team. Kyle Duncan scoring the game winner in the first game post-COVID stoppage was awesome for the fans to see… from their couches.

It’s hard to rank this highly for a few reasons though. The whole pandemic situation was still fresh in people’s minds, the disappointing result at the MLS is Back Tournament, and the burning hot seat around Chris Armas at the time doesn’t make this a super positive memory in general. Oh and also because Duncan’s shot did not cross the line. But hey, when have the referees ever been on NYCFC’s side?

Great for Duncan and it was good to see soccer back in Harrison.

12 - September 22, 2021, RBNY 1-1 NYCFC

If this list ever gets remade this result could be re-ranked higher. It all depends on how the final stretch of the 2021 season goes for the Red Bulls. If #15’s draw felt like a loss, this result felt like the exact opposite.

Castellanos’ first half goal nullified an impressive first 45 and it began to feel like more of the same. Gerhard Struber in his first full season showed promise with the formation and players but not finding the back of the net. But in the second half the pressure continued. Five yellow cards for the Bulls, two for City and a red card for the visitors amounted to eight minutes of stoppage time.

When Patryk Klimala took a shot early in stoppage it was determined after a confusing delay that the ball deflected off Maxime Chanot’s hand (sending him off). The successful penalty kick is the latest to ever be scored in league history (90+12’).

If this game had gone ahead on the originally scheduled date of August 21, during that poor summer stretch, the result could have been different. You could make the argument that the thrashing against Miami the previous game helped the team’s confidence and both that, and luck, lead to this point.

11 - August 9, 2015, RBNY 2-0 NYCFC

Funny enough this game feels like an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. There’s nothing wrong with it and seeing another BWP goal is always nice, plus Felipe’s closing goal shot low past a defender is a slick shot. But when compared to the other historic matches earlier that season it gets lost in the shuffle.

It’s the third most important match from 2015. It’s like George Harrison, Bulbasaur (the Pokémon), or Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. It exists, you’re happy it’s there, but it’s not the main focus. If it was missing it would be a problem, and it being there is usually only included as a part of a larger set.

10 - September 25, 2021, NYCFC 0-1 RBNY

The most recent entry into the rivalry slots into the top ten via merit and some recency bias. City and RBNY started the season going in opposite directions with the former challenging for the Eastern Conference top spot. After what happened in the previous game a few days prior, many expected the hosts to get some revenge and plunge the Bulls farther away from the playoff hunt.

Instead, Bronx native Omir Fernandez scored in his backyard late in the first half and the offense held the ball enough to limit City’s chances. Now heading into the third instalment a win would tie RBNY with City on points at 40 each and firmly slot them in the hunt for that final playoff spot.

Maybe Ben Cork fed the blue guys some bad info during his interview with them?

9 - June 6, 2018 (U.S. Open Cup), RBNY 4-0 NYCFC

While this game might be overshadowed by the previous year’s tournament win over City, the history factory plays a nice role. The Red Bulls’ 4-0 win in the 2018 Fourth Round is tied for the team’s biggest against a Major League Soccer side in franchise history. The only other four goal shutout came against the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the 1998 Quarterfinals. It’s also tied for the second largest win for the Bulls in the derby’s history across all competitions.

Vincent Bezecourt slammed a goal in the second minute and the lower bowl rocked at RBA. Three second half strikes including two from Royer sealed the deal. A midweek tournament game has its drawbacks but sometimes they produce.

8 - July 14, 2019, RBNY 2-1 NYCFC

Also known as the throw-in game. The match that City fans might still be angry about even after finishing atop the Eastern Conference that season.

The visitors going up early only to get taken out by two Daniel Royer goals in his last truly great season with the team was outstanding. The controversy surrounding his game winning header, where assistant referee Corey Rockwell called for a throw-in while City players believed it was going to be a corner, only added to the that has been officials having a favorite in this rivalry.

The only thing really holding this game back is that 2019 was City’s year. The series ended 1-1 with both teams winning 2-1 at home and as mentioned the blue team was the best team in the East. Plus not long after this game the Red Bulls entered a steep dive, dropping three of five and ending the season in near shambles.

7 - August 6, 2017, NYCFC 3-2 RBNY

Putting a City win this high on the list is a contentious choice. But pound for pound, this is the best and most entertaining game in this rivalry’s history. Not recognizing that is insane.

The battle between BWP and Villa is different. Phillips is by far the better performer in the rivalry with 12 goals to his name, more winning scores, and he overall had the better league career. But on this night the 20 other players on the field were muut points. When Tyler Adams’ crossed into the box he was only going to find BWP in the 64th minute, the perfect roller hitting the back of the net for the lead.

Villa’s game was outstanding too. His first goal beating Luis Robles as he charged out of net and follow-up missile in the second half should have been it. Sal Zizzo’s foul in the box to give the World Cup champion a game winning penalty kick ruined what could have been an even battle between two legends.

But really it’s fine. Rocky lost at the end of his own movie and The Rock got one win over Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania in three tries. Sometimes the other guy wins, but the battle to get there leaves both crowds standing.

6 - May 5, 2018, RBNY 4-0 NYCFC

If this was a list of the most entertaining rivalry matches in terms of quality, this would be towards the bottom. But a majority of the 25,000 at RBA would probably disagree with that. The overlooked match is still tied for the second biggest win for RBNY in the rivalry.

Kaku’s MVP caliber game also served as his breakout performance while wearing red. Wright-Phillips’ shot in the second minute was saved by Johnson but Kaku’s rebound strike into the back of the net was the first of three scores in the first half. Only a few minutes later he set-up Florian Valot for a deflected shot before serving a long pass that BWP headed in just over half an hour in.

NYCFC was leading the Eastern Conference at the time and were never allowed to find a rhythm. The Red Bulls would carry the momentum the rest of the season to win the Supporters Shield and break the league points record.

5 - June 14, 2017 (U.S. Open Cup), RBNY 1-0 NYCFC

This might be an odd choice for a top five game considering the other USOC match was a bigger blowout. But the U.S. Open Cup is special and for the first time the Hudson River Derby was going to have an extra match with knockout stakes. In an era where fans say the Open Cup is a place for MLS reserve players it was BWP versus Villa in the starting lineups. A reported 11,311 sounded like more on a Wednesday night in Harrison.

Royer’s scissor kick off a blocked shot rebound was also very sexy. Bonus points for me being in attendance for this match, my first time seeing a USOC game ever, and helping to start my love for the competition. That’s why the game I’m more excited for on Sunday is the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms versus Oyster Bay United FC 2022 qualifying match in Queens later that night!

4 - June 28, 2015, NYCFC 1-3 RBNY

The first Hudson River Derby match at Yankee Stadium holds the record for biggest crowd in the series with 48,047. In the end it was the minority horde of fans in the Budweiser Party Deck that left the happiest when the Bulls won, 3-1. Thomas McNamara gave the home side the early lead but a second half surge by the Bulls secured the three points. BWP, scoring in his second straight derby match, Chris Duvall, and Matt Miazga all found the back of the net as the team went on to sweep the inaugural home-and-away.

This was exactly what needed to happen. No 50/50 booking with NYCFC getting the home win in front of a record crowd. The Bulls stepped in front of the enemy on their own soil and stood tall, even coming from behind to win.

By the way, here’s a fun fact: This game’s highlights are in 480p on Major League Soccer’s YouTube. Way to make a new rivalry seem top bar by having highlights look like a 2007 viral video:

3 - July 24, 2016, RBNY 4-1 NYCFC

While the “other” game from 2016 is talked about far more this one was the first big controversy in the battle of New York. The goals from BWP, Zubar, and Kljestan take a back seat to the pre-game and early going antics. City head coach Patrick Vieira was ejected in the 34th minute because he had left the coaching box at Red Bull Arena. Marsch’s pre-game interview where he complained that the team weren’t getting calls led him to believe the referee called the game in the home team’s favor.

The sellout crowd at RBA ate it up and the incident stoked fire on the derby, which at this point was still in its crib. It wasn’t just one sided now as the other guys had boogie men, legitimate or not, to help feed the fire.

2 - May 10, 2015, RBNY 2-1 NYCFC

You never forget your first one. The sellout crowd at Red Bull Arena. The 2,000 fans in newly printed blue jerseys sitting in the upper corner. It was the first game where both teams officially met their enemy and fans saw former friends who left Harrison for greener pastures in the Bronx.

Then captain Dax McCarty summed it up best after the match.

“This felt different. There were people in the stands, it was loud … It was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever seen at Red Bull Arena.”

This would be a top five game no matter the result based on atmosphere alone. BWP getting the early goal got the place rocking. But his game winner in the second half helped set the tone for what this rivalry would be in the early going; Bull dominated. Matt Miazga getting a second yellow in the first half fit in perfectly and Patrick Mullins getting one back for City in the second half was the cherry on top. The shot across the bow to let everyone know this shit wasn’t over.

1 - May 21, 2016, NYCFC 0-7 RBNY

There’s no other way it’s anything else. The Red Wedding is by far one of this franchises’ defining moments. It’s the Bucky Bleeping Dent and Willis Reed walk out for RBNY. In only the fourth game in the series’ history the pecking order was firmly solidified.

“It was a disaster for us. All bad. All bad,” Villa said afterwards. “The best thing about this is we only lost three points. This was our worst day. The only thing we can do is forget the day, forget the game.”

But we really will never forget. This game inspired a legacy of tifos, chants, and constant mockery. It’s not a black and blue, it’s a big red bruise that took City years to recover from. Even most the goals were scored by club legends - BWP and Dax with braces and Alex Muyl’s first professional goal.

What speaks louder is that it happened in the Bronx and nothing is worse than getting kicked in your own place. Maybe it’s poetic that the game after this NYCFC got their first win against RBNY. Maybe this was an unseen force making sure when they got up, they came back swinging.

But for awhile when you held up two hands, one fully extended and the other with two fingers up, the best response from a City fan was to mumble or tell you to fuck off.