Though his English remains stilted on occasion, it’s often quite easy for New York Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber to show a subtle comic flair in his comments to the New York press.
“I love our stadium,” the Austrian said with a grin in his media conference this week ahead of Sunday’s derby matchup with New York City FC.
Extolling the benefits of the boisterous home crowd they expect on Sunday, the Red Bulls manager couldn’t help but poke a slight bit of indirect fun at his team’s local rivals, whose struggles to nail down a permanent home ground are well-documented. Much like when Felipe swung a phantom baseball bat in celebration at Yankee Stadium in 2015, the New York Derby manages to bring out the bantz even in foreign participants.
But Sunday’s match will be a fairly serious one competitively speaking, with both teams jostling for top positioning in the Eastern Conference (City sitting 2nd with Red Bulls in 3rd) heading into the season’s home stretch. Struber hopes the high emotions of the match will rub off on his team’s energy-reliant style of play.
“I think it is always a big revival when we have the chance to play against New York City FC,” said Struber.
“I think especially for our fans to create a very good game especially, in our principles, in our basics and this is one more time very important we know how successful can New York City FC play football also in the past. We remember the situation and we have the big memory from that in our brain that they win MLS Cup in the last season.”
The Red Bulls have already begun to eliminate some of the bad taste that City’s trophy-lifting at the end of last year left in their mouth. A 3-0 derby win for the Red Bulls in the Open Cup finals last month was one of the most emphatic results in the rivalry’s history, one that Omir Fernandez hopes his team can replicate on Sunday.
“We have a lot of talent overall, and I think you can say they have attacking talent. When we played them, they had some attacking talent, but our defensive talent stopped them for most of the game.”
“We have to think about the players we have as well, the attacking talent that we have as well with creating three goals against them and us keeping them to a clean sheet.”
Fernandez’s team hasn’t been as complete as it will be on Sunday all season. Andres Reyes has officially returned from an offseason foot injury, and card suspensions, covid protocols, and national team call-ups are not a factor for the first time in weeks.
Though Struber was reluctant to give his team the advantage in the situation (saying that professional players like City’s should be capable of turning around and playing on three days rest), the Red Bulls will also have a full week of rest and training under their belt while City has had to travel from their 1-0 win in Dallas on Wednesday night.
Games are not won on the physio’s recovery level charts, but it would certainly seem the Red Bulls have the physical advantage on Sunday and a mental one as well after their cathartic win over City last month. In what’s becoming slight deja vu for Red Bull fans, the team has an enticing opportunity to plant their flag at the top of the Eastern Conference.
They’ve never seemed more prepared to do so.