On a night where NYCFC was supposed seize the soccer spotlight, it was the Red Bulls who stole the show.
The Red Bulls’ noisy neighbors fielded their three designated players in the starting lineup for the very first time Sunday, but it was the home side who took home the plaudits and the three points. The Red Bulls swept the three-game season series from NYCFC after a 2-0 win and found a way to neuter the heralded NYCFC trio of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.
“We were excited about the matchup to be honest,” Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan said post-match. “We had been watching them for the past couple of weeks and we felt that we could exploit them.”
Despite playing their third match in eight days, the hosts looked like the more energetic and vibrant team. The Red Bulls’ vaunted high-pressing game gave the NYCFC midfield fits, as Kljestan, Dax McCarty and Felipe targeted and harassed Lampard and Pirlo throughout the match. According to Whoscored.com, Kljestan and McCarty were tied for second on the team with four tackles during the match.
“We wanted to make sure that those two [Lampard and Pirlo] didn’t have an easy day,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said during his post-match press conference. “Credit to, again, Sacha, Dax, and Felipe in middle of the field, with heavy legs. I think they took it as a personal challenge to play against great players like that.”
The key to Marsch’s plan was to limit the amount of open room for Pirlo to operate in central midfield. The Italian legend is notorious for being able to play dangerous long passes from a deep-lying position in midfield, but with Kljestan shadowing Pirlo’s every move, the former Juventus man became less effective.
“When teams give [Pirlo] time and space to spray the ball where ever he wants, it’s killer,” McCarty said. “I thought Sacha put in a great shift defensively. He really didn’t give him a lot of time and space.”
Lampard’s night was made hapless thanks to McCarty and Felipe. The former Chelsea icon had one open look in the second minute after making a trademark run into the penalty box, but steered his shot wide of goal. It was the one highlight for the 37-year-old Englishmen, who failed to make an impact in his first start in MLS competition.
“I thought Felipe and I were all over Lampard,” McCarty said. “He didn’t get too many runs out on top of the [penalty] box.”
More known for his defensive exploits, Felipe was able contribute in attack as well. His 85th-minute shot snaked past NYCFC goalie Josh Saunders to put the match away. Bradley Wright-Phillips tallied his 10th goal of the season and fourth Hudson River Derby goal of the season with a tap-in in the 21st minute. It was a complete performance from Marsch’s team and one that the boss said he would cherish.
“I think our guys wanted to prove a point and go in there and play against world-class players [and] show they’re up for the task. The way we play and how we play and who we are is still going to make us successful.”