New York City FC again cracked under the pressure of playing their biggest rival in a win-or-go-home knockout match, falling to the Red Bulls 1-0 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey to crash out of Leagues Cup in the Round of 32.
Struggling against the Red Bulls is nothing new for the Boys in Blue. They’ve only won twice as the away team in Harrison since the team began play in 2015, and have yet to even score a goal against RBNJ in any of the four elimination games they’ve now played against the cross-river club in team history.
The performance was eerily similar to the dreary one NYCFC produced in another 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls back in May. NYCFC yet again looked disjointed and unsteady while trying to play through that patented Red Bull high press, and while New York City won the possession battle, it was mostly pointless possession in the team’s own defensive half, with shots on target largely nonexistent. Red Bull keeper Carlos Coronel was not forced to make a save until the 59th minute.
It turns out that beating woeful Toronto FC 5-0 did not mark the end of NYCFC’s season-long struggles with scoring goals and winning matches. The NYCFC attack was so limp that Nick Cushing abandoned the 4-2-3-1 formation his team started the match with during halftime, sending on Justin Haak to again function as a center back in something resembling a 3-4-3.
NYCFC did create a few decent chances to equalize in the second half, but the familiar script of the vast majority of Hudson River Derbies contested on the New Jersey side of the river played out once more. The Red Bulls defended smartly and physically and NYCFC again was made to pay for its most glaring mistake, and once again were held scoreless by their most bitter rivals.
New York City still has never won a knockout match against one of its local rivals. They’ve now lost six times to a combination of the Red Bulls and New York Cosmos in both the US Open Cup and Leagues Cup knockout rounds.
The Red Bulls have had their way with their cross-river rivals in all of the biggest games the teams have played to date, owning NYCFC to the tune of a combined score of 9-0 across their four elimination Hudson River Derby wins.
It’s not an allergy to all big games, as NYCFC have successfully navigated the MLS Cup Playoffs en route to winning MLS Cup, which the team from New Jersey has still not accomplished in 27 seasons of competition.
Local derbies have rarely brought out the best of NYCFC, as the team has frequently failed to rise to meet the intensity level of the hotly-contested games they’ve played against local rivals red and green. Yes, these elimination games have been in ancillary cup tournaments and not in the MLS Cup Playoffs, and the past games involved players long gone from either side of the Hudson (or East) River rivalry.
The fact remains that these are the games NYCFC’s fans care the most about, and the team too often has fallen flat on its face and failed to deliver inspiring performances under the brighter lights of a derby day.
Further attacking reinforcements, like Julián Fernández and perhaps Maxi Moralez or even another random CFG winger who might arrive, may very well improve an attack that has floundered for far too much of the 2023 season.
Yet it’s not just talent holding NYCFC back in games like their snoozer of a Leagues Cup exit. Post-match, Nick Cushing kept repeating that he had wanted to see more fight from his team in the first half—an admission of sorts from the head coach that his NYCFC lacked the killer instinct and extra edge necessary to push themselves past the Red Bulls to earn a historic win.
Instead, it was more of the same from the Blue side, another flat loss to an opportunistic pressing team that grabbed its one goal and held onto it, confident that they’d seen this exact game play out before. The names and talent levels have changed over the years for NYCFC, but the results in must-win derby games have, sadly, stayed exactly the same.