DERBY DAY

New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (99) takes the ball up field during the second half of an MLS soccer game against D.C. United, Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Harrison, N.J. The Red Bulls won 2-0.
Associated Press / John Minchillo

Sunday, May 10, is ‘Derby Day’ when both local MLS teams go toe-to-toe for bragging right in the New York / New Jersey metropolitan area. The New York Red Bulls will host New York City FC at its haven — Red Bull Arena in Harrison (NJ), a place where the Red Bulls seldom lose – in the first of three MLS matchups between the clubs this season. The nationally televised showdown will kick off at 7:00 p.m. on Fox Sports One.

Soccer everywhere thrives on derbies, local rivalries that encourage the competition to spill into the stands and continue as talking points in the neighborhoods and workplaces. In England, there is the famous Manchester Derby between (Manchester) United and (Manchester) City; in London, there is never a dull moment when Chelsea FC meets Tottenham FC or when either those clubs plays Arsenal FC. Italy has the Milan Derby between Inter (Milan) and AC (Athletic Club of Milan). The MLS has its share of these rivalries as well, just take in a Western Conference Portland Timbers-Seattle Sounders matchup and watch the fans sing and shout and sit on the edge of their seats from start to finish; or watch the Canadian teams in MLS as they battle for the Amway Canadian Championship between Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The game is made of derbies, nerve-racking but exciting contests that are most memorable; and for the still-growing MLS, these added attractions are important for fans interest and growth.

After Sunday’s Red Bulls-New York FC showdown, the teams will meet again in Yankee Stadium, home of the inaugural New York FC franchise, on June 28 and kick back to Red Bull Arena on Aug. 9, both Sunday games. The first contest, though, is always the most important and usually the most exciting as it sets the tone and establishes the mental advantage for the winner.

The teams are on very different paths, but most of the season is still ahead. The established New York Red Bulls (3-1-4) set a season-opening record, playing seven games undefeated, but that streak ended with a 2-1 loss at old rival New England Revolution last Saturday, May 2, while New York FC (0-5-2) is still winless after a 3-1 home loss to the Seattle Sounders last Sunday.

The Red Bulls surprised many who believed that this year could well be a very difficult season after parting with popular coach Mike Petke, who led the team to its first Supporters’ Shield Trophy (the regular season title) in 2013, and also losing inspirational captain Thierry Henry, strong defender Jamison Olave and experienced midfielder Tim Cahill, but new coach Jesse Marsh managed to retool the team and give it a very promising outlook.

New York City FC is still hoping that Spain international, David Villa, dogged by injury, will eventually live up to his lethal-striker billing, and that former England international Frank Lampard will arrive soon from parent club Manchester City to help rescue the Jason Kreis-led team that seems searching for a field leader and starving for goals.

What also really makes Sunday’s matchup exciting, area bragging rights notwithstanding, are the underlying duels that exists: former Red Bull Mehdi Ballouchy has been scoring goals for New York City FC and may have something to prove; and so will two U.S. internationals – the Red Bulls Sacha Kljestan and Mix Dixkerud of NYFC — who will be in a midfield battle. The two American coaches, Marsh and Kreis, will be locked in a tactical tussle, which will certainly add to the contest, but most importantly is the battle for the local fans.

Many fans are still undecided as to which team is their favorite; with this battle for the local fans resolved, the victorious team will enjoy healthier average attendance and fans who will enjoy chest-pumping all summer long.

The cross-river derby is on!

New York City FC’s Kwadwo Poku, left, jumps over Seattle Sounders FC’s Osvaldo Alonso during the second half of an MLS soccer game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, May 3, 2015. The Sounders defeated the New York City FC 3-1.
Associated Press / Seth Wenig

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