The third New York Derby of the 2018 Major League Soccer season comes at a crucial point for both New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls.
The New York rivals are chasing Atlanta United for first place in the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings, with the Red Bulls three points back in second place and NYCFC four behind the Five Stripes in third.
Wednesday’s showdown at Yankee Stadium could alter the balance of power in the East, especially if the Red Bulls come out on top.
However, both sides are dealing with their share of difficulties ahead of the Rivalry Week opener.
NYCFC, who fell flat on Saturday in a 2-0 loss to Philadelphia, will be without a few key players due to injuries and suspensions.
Jesus Medina and Alex Callens are out with injuries, while Ronald Matarrita is serving a red-card suspension after he was sent off late in the second half on Saturday.
The Red Bulls don’t have as many absences, but they will be without Michael Murillo, who was sent off in Saturday’s contest against Vancouver.
The schedule makers didn’t do the two sides any favors either, as the midweek contest comes after a key East contest for NYCFC and one of the longest road trips of the year for the Red Bulls.
But once the two sides step on the field on Wednesday, all of the built-in excuses they could use will be thrown out the window.
In addition to Eastern Conference standings, hanging in the balance is bragging rights and superiority in the rivalry, as NYCFC’s finally established a foothold against its rival from New Jersey.
Dome Torrent’s side won three of the last five league derbies, with a 1-0 win at Yankee Stadium on July 8 being the latest triumph.
Despite the recent traction gained by NYCFC, the Red Bulls still have a knack for emphatic wins in Derby, as they won 4-0 on two occasions in 2018, once in the league and once in the U.S. Open Cup.
When you break down the potential starting XIs for both sides, the immediate focus shifts to two of the most prolific scorers in the league.
Bradley Wright-Phillips has been nothing but stellar against NYCFC, as 11 of his 101 career goals have come against the Bronx-based side.
David Villa is obviously no slouch either, but he enters with one goal since June, as an injury hampered most of his summer.
Each side’s midfield playmaker goes up against a stout challenge, as Kaku must find a way around Alex Ring, while Maxi Moralez has to navigate in space past Tyler Adams.
When you go up and down the projected starting lineups, fullback could be the most important position given the way NYCFC and the Red Bulls try to put their opponents under duress.
Anton Tinnerholm and Ben Sweat, who is quietly having one of the best seasons of any full back in MLS, have to deal with the pressing style of the Red Bulls while also choosing the right time to surge forward and make an impact on the flanks in the final third.
Kemar Lawrence and Connor Lade serve the same purpose on the red half of the field, as they’ll try to play as high as possible to help the effectiveness of the press. But, they’ll need to keep an eye on the interchanging of Villa, Moralez, Jo Inge Berget, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
While Wednesday’s affair in the Bronx could easily turn into a shootout with all the attacking talent on the field, there’s more of a chance it turns into a chess match, with an unlikely hero stepping up with a key strike in the second half.
NYCFC needs a victory more than the Red Bulls since Armas’ men still possess a game in hand on the top four sides in the East, which means we could see more alterations from Torrent early in the second half if the game remains scoreless.
If the Red Bulls come away with three points, they’ll once again walk away with supremacy in the Derby, and the win should set them up for further success in their chase of Atlanta.