With the MLS regular season down to its final few matchdays, the second and final Hudson River Derby of 2020 provided a crucial opportunity to jockey for favorable playoff positioning.
Going into Sunday’s derby, NYCFC and RBNY had both already clinched postseason berths, but with a tight race in the Eastern Conference, there is plenty to play for in the dying days of the regular season.
Both New York clubs sat within reach of better playoff positioning. With two matches remaining, NYCFC set their eyes on sneaking into the fourth seed and home field in the first round while the Red Bulls looked to avoid the play-in round.
The scoring started early, with Valentin Castellanos leaping up to head the ball into the net off a Maxi Moralez cross just 11 minutes in, but the Red Bulls answered just a handful of minutes later.
An attacking move was broken up a few times by City but not cleared, and Brian White struck the ball from outside the box into the corner of the net to even the match.
Both clubs fought hard for an edge in the rest of the first half before a deflected shot by Christian Casseres bounced past Sean Johnson and into the City net to give the Red Bulls a lead.
Again, a one-goal lead would not survive longer than six minutes. This time, a dangerous ball forward by Moralez was redirected by the foot of Castellanos, with Gary Mackay-Steven in on net for his first goal of the season.
The Derby went into halftime level at two, with both clubs eyeing a precious three points.
NYCFC came out hungry in the second half. Just five minutes in, City captain Alex Ring sent a high shot over the hand of Ryan Meara and into the top corner. Ring’s stunner established a City lead, but chances were abundant for the next 25 minutes, though the scoreline would hold.
With 75 minutes gone, Castellanos bagged his second of the day. A cross was broken up, but Castellanos controlled the ball before tucking it home for a 4-2 lead.
In the 84th, Moralez was brought down in the box for a late NYC penalty. Castellanos converted the penalty for a 5-2 lead and his first career hat trick.Castellanos played a role in four goals, earning a MLS Player of the Week award and stepping up to fill a big hole in NYCFC’s goal-scoring department with Heber injured and Alexandru Mitrita sent out on loan.
The big win puts City comfortably in fifth place, but they remain just out of reach of fourth, needing Orlando or Columbus to falter in their final match following their contest against each other Wednesday.
For the Red Bulls, it seems they are doomed to the play-in round, where they will likely host the Montreal Impact. The Red Bulls sit in eighth, behind expansion side Nashville SC, but out of reach of the nine and ten seeds, as well as the three other clubs within striking distance of the play-in round.
Ahead of their final match in Chicago, NYCFC seems to have found their scoring stride, with 23 goals in their past nine matches. Chicago, who hopes to cling to the final play-in spot, will not be easily handled, with everything to play for in their final game of the season.
Following the conclusion of the MLS Cup Playoffs in December, NYCFC will return to action in the CONCACAF Champions League. The CCL is set to resume play at a neutral location in the U.S. in mid-December, wrapping up the quarterfinal round in process before single-elimination games decide the winner.
City currently trails Mexican side Tigres UANL, who defeated them 1-0 in March before the tournament was halted by COVID.
Two other MLS clubs trail their matchups, with Montreal down 2-1 to Olimpia and Atlanta United suffering a 3-0 defeat to Club America. Los Angeles FC will play Cruz Azul in a single-elimination game as the two had not kicked off prior to the competition being postponed.
With a long and chaotic season winding down, it seems NYC has chosen the perfect time to get their feet set and find their scoring touch.
“New Yorkers are hardworking, ambitious, and winners, that’s what we want to be and I think the team showed those kinds of values when we play,” said Deila following the Derby. “Everybody fights for each other, everybody does their job, and we have skills.”
City’s fighting ability will be tested in the final months of 2020, but despite setbacks at every turn, a resilient New York City team seems up to the challenge.