NEW YORK CITY– The crowd inside Yankee Stadium fell silent for the first time on Sunday night in the 75th minute as David Villa approached the penalty spot.
What followed was an eruption of emotion that bellowed through Yankee Stadium, all five boroughs and the tri-state area confirming New York is blue.
Sunday was not just the first time New York City FC defeated the New York Red Bulls in two consecutive matches, it was the day the New York rivalry was truly born.
For the first seven league matches, and the Open Cup contest in June, the Red Bulls had a firm grip on what is quickly becoming one of the league’s best rivalries, but NYCFC loosened that lock on June 24 with a 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena.
Sunday’s match was confirmation that not only can NYCFC play on the level of the Red Bulls in the big match, but that the superstar of the third-year side was ready to make his imprint on the rivalry.
David Villa scored his first-career hat-trick since joining MLS in 2015 in a contest in which he hasn’t featured at the highest level before. Entering Sunday night, the Spanish legend tallied a single goal in the July 3, 2016 victory at Yankee Stadium, the first for NYCFC in the series.
“I think when he’s on, you’ll look back at the three goals today, he’s fantastic,” NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira said. “I think he’s, David is our leader. When he’s performing like that, that lifts the team and the players that are behind him will follow him. When David is playing really well, the team is playing well. Today, he was David.”
Villa went pound-for-pound with Bradley Wright-Phillips, the superstar adorned in red and white that has torn apart his rival, and did so again with a two-goal performance on Sunday. Wright-Phillips has found the back of the net on 10 occasions in eight league games against NYCFC.
“Bradley’s our version of David Villa,” Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch said. “Two great goals from him. He loves these games. I don’t know if it’s from watching his dad grow up. For whatever reason, he really relishes the big stage and the big moment and the big games. He’s clearly been, if you go through the history of this series, he’s been the best player over two and a half years.”
When Wright-Phillips pocketed his second goal of the night past Sean Johnson, there was a feeling around the stadium that the red-clad fans in the upper-right portion of Yankee Stadium would walk away celebrating a victory again, but Villa reversed the course of the rivalry with an impressive 72nd-minute equalizer and a penalty that flew into the bottom-left corner of the net in the 75th minute.
“We have this ability to respond when we have our back against the wall or when we come back from a bad performance,” Vieira said. “We are not the big team yet because a big team plays every week like today and we are not able to do it every time. This game was fantastic, we won the game, we got three points, but I expect more consistency from the team.”
When the final whistle sounded, an explosive roar ricocheted across the Bronx with the team dressed in blue celebrating a landmark achievement in what was a one-sided rivalry.
Sunday was the best we’ve seen from the two New York clubs in their ninth overall clash, the eighth in league play. The magnificent duel of superstars was a bout we’ve been waiting to see with Wright-Phillips normally in the dominant playmaking role, but the result was all both stars cared about after the game.
“I always say the same when we lose and when we win,” Villa said. “It’s three points more for us. For our supporters, it’s really important to win these games and we’ve done it two times this year. For me the most important part of today is Red Bull is two points behind us with one game less than us before the game and we beat them and we got third place.”
“We’ve lost two games in a row to them,” Wright-Phillips said. “It doesn’t feel good at all. I’ve tried to explain before I don’t care about goals as much as you think. I obviously wanted to score today, but we lost today against our rival.”
It was nothing short of a grand spectacle in front of the entire nation, and it was a game the league needed to showcase just how electric every match between NYCFC and the Red Bulls can be.
There will be a third meeting between the clubs on August 25, and if fate so happens to agree with our viewing wishes a playoff series might occur, but until then Vieira, Villa and the rest of the NYCFC squad can relish in the fact that they took the New York derby to the next level with their 3-2 victory.
“It’s good. It’s exciting. It’s definitely better than going somewhere else in this league and playing in front of 10,000 fans in an empty stadium,” Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “I think this rivalry has been good for MLS. I think it’s been good for both sides. I think it’s ignited both of our teams in certain ways and for the most part we’ve gotten the better of them. But this season they took two out of three so we know we have one more against them to even things up.”
And if this is the high standard that both clubs have set for themselves in the marquee matches of the season, the New York derby will only get better and soon become a match people outside of North America will mark as appointment viewing.