After finishing behind their Big Apple rivals in each of their first two seasons, New York City FC could come closer to completing a better season than the New York Red Bulls with a victory Friday night to complete a season sweep.
Coach Patrick Vieira’s team won both previous meetings this season in a matchup known as the Hudson River Derby, after NYCFC (14-7-4, 46 points) had won just one of the first six. And with eight wins in its last 11 games overall, New York City enters the weekend five points ahead of all other challengers for the second spot in the Eastern Conference standings and a bye in the first-round of the playoffs.
Another win would even temporarily close the gap to four points on first-place Toronto FC, although Vieira insisted that race may be over this season.
“I believe Toronto (is) already the champions,” Vieira said on mlssoccer.com after Sunday’s 2-1 win against New England. “I think all the other teams are going to fight for the second spot and Toronto will win the league. They are quite really strong and I don’t think anybody will catch them.”
Vieira is also likely facing the remainder of the regular season without center back Maxim Chanot. Earlier this week, it was revealed Chanot would be out six to eight weeks following bilateral sports hernia surgery.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls (12-10-2, 38 points) had a strong claim to the mantle of league’s hottest team until City wrested it away from them in a wild 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 6.
The Red Bulls have still won five of their last seven league games while also managing the demands of a run to the club’s second U.S. Open Cup Final.
Last Friday’s 2-0 loss at Portland came at the end of a three-game, seven-day stretch. And after seeing his side go 120 minutes in a dramatic 3-2 extra time win over FC Cincinnati in the Open Cup semis, coach Jesse Marsch made nine changes to the starting lineup for the trip west.
That latest has again taken the spotlight off the Red Bulls, though Marsch would probably say it shouldn’t have.
“No one wants to give this group credit,” he said after the win against Cincinnati. “No one wants to acknowledge that they’ve been a good team, especially in the past two or three months. No one wants to tip their hat to what’s been happening here at Red Bull. And the only way to force people’s hand is to win.”