You could feel the difference in the atmosphere the moment you walked into Red Bull Arena Sunday.
There was an electricity in the air and a wall of noise coming from both ends of the stadium. Over by the North Ward, the fans of NYCFC, all clad in sky blue, raucously cheered for the visitors as they took to the pitch. The home fans in the South Ward were as rambunctious as ever, singing and chanting insults at their not-so-welcomed new neighbors. Red and blue shirts intermingled throughout the sold-out stadium, as both sides traded barbs.
This was the atmosphere that surrounded the first-ever New York Derby. And it was one that no one on either side will ever forget. On this sultry May evening, New York was turned red.
In a match that managed to live up to the hype, the Red Bulls struck first blood against NYCFC behind two Bradley Wright-Phillips’ goals and beat their newest rivals, 2-1, Sunday. Overcoming a red card to young defender Matt Miazga, the Red Bulls still managed to dominate for most of the match and held off a late NYCFC charge to take the three points.
“[The match] was amazing,” said Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty.”The only time I have ever seem Red Bull [Arena] like that was, to be honest, maybe the Arsenal game [last season]. It was unbelievable, it truly was.”
The building was sent into delirium early on. Wright-Phillips turned Red Bull Arena into a cauldron of noise in the fourth minute, turning home Lloyd Sam’s lofted cross into the back of the net. The fast start was just what Wright-Phillips and the Red Bulls were looking for, as they fed off the incredible energy from the crowd.
“I was just happy to be on the end of [Sam’s cross],” said Wright-Phillips in his postgame press conference. “I didn’t have to do much. I think Lloyd Sam did all of the work, but it was a great feeling to score in the derby.”
The Red Bulls continued to create chance after chance and looked well on their way to routing NYCFC until the 36th minute. Already on a yellow card, Miazga picked up his second booking after hauling down NYCFC’s Khiry Shelton.
One would think being down to 10 men would be a huge detriment for the Red Bulls, but it strangely played into their hands. Marsch changed tactics and opted for his team to play on the counter, a strategy that has worked time and time again this season. With more players coming forward for NYCFC, the Red Bulls sat deep and hit NYCFC on the break. Wright-Phillips would tap in his second of the night and 33rd in his Red Bulls career in the 51st minute.
“We have talked about if we go a man down what the tactics need to look like,” Jesse Marsch said. “We still want to find moments to try and press and now compress the field and win balls and then when we do play forward and see if we can catch teams on the counter.”
It looked like it would be smooth sailing from there, but Marsch’s men would find themselves up just a goal from NYCFC substitute Patrick Mullins pulled one back for the away side in the 76th minute. However, the Red Bulls were able to kill off the final minutes of the game and end their three-game winless streak with a historic victory.
McCarty reflected on the significance of the achievement and what it meant for Major League Soccer and the soccer scene in the tri-state area.
“[The rivalry] is only going to help the soccer landscape in MLS,” he said. “.. Whenever fans, players and people see an atmosphere in a stadium like Red Bull Arena [Sunday], it’s only going to be a good advertisement for the league.”