It isn’t the most important U.S. Open Cup match in franchise history, but it’s being billed as such.
The Red Bulls host New York City FC Wednesday in a match that is far from being the most significant one for the franchise in the U.S. Open Cup. Keep in mind that the then-MetroStars in 2003 hosted and lost the Open Cup final to the Chicago Fire.
But this match will receive far more hype and attention than that one, given the proximity and growing rivalry between the Red Bulls and NYCFC. The anticipation is building for a match between two clubs that clearly don’t like each other.
After several days off, the Red Bulls returned to training on Thursday with the focus of next week’s Open Cup match squarely on the agenda. They had a long video session to start the day, but what they face in City is far from a certainty.
New York City has been known to change tactics and tempo, something they did in their playoff series loss last year to Toronto FC. But the Red Bulls have seen firsthand how this plays out and what City head coach Patrick Vieira is capable of doing.
In the Red Bulls’ 7-0 win at Yankee Stadium last season, City tried to play out of their backline and fell into the Red Bulls’ high press, resulting in City getting throttled in the process. They adjusted the next time these two teams met and played a more direct, faster pace that bypassed the press entirely in what would become a 2-0 victory for NYCFC.
New York City FC might stick with their patient build-up, possession style against the Red Bulls. Or, on a large Red Bull Arena pitch, they might try to play fast as to avoid the high-pressing Red Bulls, the same press and counter-press that caused them all sorts of fits when they lost 7-0 a season ago. Head coach Jesse Marsch called this City team “more dynamic” than the group he faced last year. Additionally, he didn’t sound certain that they would change their approach.
“They’re pretty consistent with how they play, even if they make small tweaks,” Marsch said on Thursday following training. “They like to possess the ball out of the back, they have good rotations out of the midfield, they challenge you to cover spaces well. If we don’t press well, they are very good at finding Jack Harrison on that wing, which means David Villa has space to operate along the backline.
“The key for us, I think, is to press well, to counter-press well, to compete well within the game, to outrun them. And when we have our chances, to possess the ball and make them defend to be effective in that manner.”
“It’s always fun, everything from what the rivalry means to what the stylistic matchup makes. It’s always a really fun game for us. We’ll be up for it, that’s for sure.”
While tactics remain a bit of an unknown, what does seem certain is that the Red Bulls will be looking to field a strong lineup.
Typically, the fourth round has not seen the Red Bulls play an MLS opponent, meaning that they can slide in some younger players in order to gain match experience and exposure. A blended squad, very often featuring several USL players and players typically on the bench, would be fielded.
Against their noisy neighbor in the Bronx, this won’t be the case. They do have a game that follows a few days later when they visit the Philadelphia Union, but that may not matter much.
After all, a loss to their rivals would be embarrassing in a series where they have won 5-of-6 matches all-time. More-so, a win by City would see them advance in the U.S. Open Cup, a title that this Red Bulls team has yet to win.
And letting City, in their third year of existence, lift that trophy beforehand would be devastating.
“It will be interesting. I’m not sure what their approach will be, but our approach will be to probably look at a few different things but put a lot of regulars on the field. We think we’ll have enough time to recover and go again on Sunday,” Marsch said.
“Listen, any time our two teams play each other, we both know there’s a lot on the line. That includes preseason, that included every moment we’ve ever played them. We’re ready, we’re excited, we’re hopeful that we’ll have a big crowd for the Open Cup, that will be really helpful. We’ve got a lot of games coming up against them the next couple of months.
“This will be the first one; it may be the most exciting.”