To be fair, there were warning signs. Before NYCFC beat the New York Red Bulls, their fans confessed to me their concerns. Concerns? Because of their attacking abilities. “You have Bradley Wright Phillips” I pointed out. Yes, but who else? “Gonzalo Veron?” I offered. They shrugged. “Daniel Royer, who scored the winner ten days ago in the Open Cup?” They shook their heads and looked out at the pitch, and I decided I was tired of trying to make them feel better about their chances.
And who would blame me? For this is the team that has owned the Hudson River Derby. That has outscored NYCFC 19 to 4. That has won six of the seven matches between the two clubs. A team that has, away from this particular rivalry, turned itself into something of a powerhouse in the league – winning the Supporters Shield, playing in the Champions League, appearing in the playoffs. What did they have to worry about?
But it was clear to those of us who follow NYCFC that his was not going to be the same side that the Red Bulls had beaten ten days prior. And perhaps that was what these Red Bull fans were worried about. For now the top line had Rodney Wallace. And the midfield had Yangel Herrera. And the backline had Maxime Chanot. Three players who fundamentally alter the way their lines play. And taken in aggregate, make NYCFC a vastly different – and better – team.
What’s New?: NYCFC Beat the New York Red Bulls in Harrison
We have talked already about the catalytic effect the Costa Rican national has on David Villa’s game. How his speed and touch demand opposing defenses pay him attention – or pay the consequences. But think about how Wallace affected the lead up to Jack Harrison’s first half goal. How Michael Murrillo clearly had his hands full marking him. Which meant Aurelien Collin couldn’t count on help with Villa – unless it came from Aaron Long. But if it did, that meant Kemar Lawrence was alone with Jack Harrison. Which is fine, until Ben Sweat starts pushing up into the attack – as he did on Wallace’s side. Which starts to create havoc with the defensive assignments – and that’s about all the space Jack Harrison needs any more to do damage – as he proved against Seattle and as he did so again on Saturday when NYCFC beat the Red Bulls.
You have to hand it to Felipe. The wily Brazilian knew that the key to NYCFC having a successful match was the young Venezuelan midfielder. Could Yangel Herrera step into the role Maxi Moralez had played in the first half of the Open Cup and help NYCFC beat the Red Bulls? Like any smart veteran, Felipe knew the best way to stop those young legs was by going through his head. So he spent the first half trying to get into Herrera’s mind. He hacked at him. He talked to him. He pushed him and shoved him and suffered the 19-year-old to endure a thousand South American slings and arrows. But it didn’t work. Herrera showed a poise and patience that was far in excess of his years. He showed that he has the temperament to play at the highest level. As if you needed any other reason to worry that this would be his only season stateside.
Let us set aside for a moment the obvious way Maxime Chanot has been directing the back line, communicating constantly with RJ Allen and Ben Sweat and Alexander Callens, as well as with Alex Ring in front of him and Sean Johnson behind him. Let us also set aside how the fruits of this communication – a solid back line – allows the midfield to be more aggressive and play more forward. This in turn permits the front line to attack more relentlessly. Let’s set all that aside and instead talk about the effect that Chanot has on Callens. The confidence and comfort and communication those two have is what allowed Callens to be more aggressive, to break up plays, to make runs to the wing and stifle attacks. As he did time and again. Because he knew that Chanot had his back. In exactly the way he did not feel during the Open Cup match. And to be clear, this is to take nothing away from Callens terrific game. It’s just recognizing that soccer is a team sport, and when you play it that way, you beat teams. You know, like NYCFC beat the Red Bulls.
Jesse Marsch – wait, what?
After the match, some pointed to the absence of Jesse Marsch during the run-up as a reason NYCFC beat the Red Bulls. That his trip to Europe to complete his UEFA certification not only deprived the team of his genius but also set a curiously casual tone for this match. But I find it hard to believe that anybody in the Red Bull locker room thought this match would be a walkover. Not because they’re “professionals.” Not because of the “Rivalry Week” hype. But because they knew that NYCFC are – the Derby record aside – a quality team. And you don’t take quality teams for granted.
Though if they did, you can bet they won’t next time.