It wasn’t a tale of two halves, even though that would be the most convenient story line for both sets of combatants.
The second installment of the Hudson River Derby was an illustration-rather than a story- of a team who knew themselves and a team who quite obviously still does not. In fact, NYCFC laid an egg.
To their credit, New York City FC got off to a flying start in front of a strong home crowd of 48,047 at a sold-out Yankee Stadium. When Tommy McNamara slotted home a half volley into the bottom corner inside of ten minutes, it looked as if the home side would be the team in control, and maybe even level the season series at one win apiece.
As the dust cleared and the tempo of the match slowed down after a frenetic, end-to-end affair that characterized the first quarter hour, it became clear that the Red Bulls were the stronger, better equipped side.
Perhaps the turning point came in the 25th minute, when New York City FC left fullback Chris Wingert was substituted out of with an apparent injury. Over NYCFC’s four match unbeaten run, the majority of their success stemmed from their strong defense, which allowed them to get up the field and hold possession consistently, and play with the confidence necessary to reach the highest levels at which they’re capable of playing.
The key to their defensive performance over that run of form was the unchanging personnel along their back four. Chris Wingert, Shay Facey, Jason Hernandez, and R. J. Allen were the glue that held the team together, and it was clear during this match that there was no Plug N’ Play solution for the absence of Wingert, who it NYCFC’s strongest fullback in possession. It’s impossible to overstate the value of a consistent defensive lineup in Major League Soccer, and the New York Red Bulls’ three unanswered goals are what happens when a good defensive formula gets messed with.
On the other side of the field, it was the New York Red Bulls who had their defensive personnel firing on all cylinders. They fired in goals too. Chris Duvall scored the winner on 52 minutes and U-20 World Cup veteran Matt Miazga added an insurance tally in the 73rd.
When asked whether or not the lights shone too brightly on his players in such a high-profile match up, Jason Kreis replied that it was more a matter of complacency that held his side back.
“We got away from everything that we’ve been trying to do over the past several weeks and months, and it was an effort that was really disappointing… I don’t think we got a real honest effort out of our players.
“My biggest fear coming into this game was that we had gone through games on a winning streak, and four games unbeaten,” said Kreis, “I think the players started to feel as if they had made it a little bit, and we see this happen in our league all the time… I think it comes down to a little bit of attitude.”
That attitude that Kreis spoke of (or maybe lack of attitude judging from NYCFC’s flat second half performance) stems largely from collective inexperience. Despite the wealth of individual experience on the team, NYCFC showed that they still haven’t spent enough time in the trenches to handle the pressure and expectations that come along with the spotlight of New York City, or to hold each other accountable for their “attitudes” during a run of good form.
Clearly, this is a side with a long way to go. Expectations are always going to be sky high in New York City, and a hungry and uncompromising fan base are going to hold NYCFC accountable regardless of whether or not the team is accountable to themselves.
It’s all part of the learning curve for a group of guys that have played only a half of a season together, but they seem to be making a habit of learning the hard way. However, even though they’ve already dropped the Hudson River Derby season series to their rivals, it would be unwise to dismiss a win at Red Bull Arena in August as merely a consolation prize. On the contrary, it would be a major sign of progress toward overcoming the team’s collective inexperience in the all-important aspect of mental toughness.