New York City FC and New York Red Bulls got rivalry week underway on Wednesday night. There was just one winner from the 1-1 draw. It was neither of the teams involved. Atlanta United were the happy ones come Thursday morning.
Rivalry week is here. Some of the most hotly contested matches will be played over these few days. And with the end of the season looming and a tightly-packed playoff race coming to the fore, points have never been more precious for many of MLS’ elite clubs.
Two of the very best played one another on Wednesday night as New York City FC hosted local rivals, the New York Red Bulls, with both teams hoping to make up ground in the Eastern Conference and potentially make a run at the Supporters’ Shield over the final few weeks.
It was a fiery affair. With both teams desperate for the victory and three points, there was no love lost as they looked to spoil one another’s chances for a strong playoff seeding. Two red cards, both for the home team, the latter of which was far harsher than the first and perhaps unjustified, two goals from two truly brilliant centre-forwards, and a split of the points. It was a true, local derby.
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But, at the end of it all, neither team will really be happy. Yes, New York City FC were able to hang on for a point with nine men and they should be pleased with their second-half performance to haul their way back from one goal down and snatch a draw, and yes, the Red Bulls played some nice football, as they always do, when in possession and showcased the same cohesion that has defined their season, but, at this point in the season, results matter the most, and neither got the result they would have hoped for.
In fact, there is just one winner from this 1-1 draw, and it is neither of the two teams that played.
Atlanta United would have been the team happiest waking up on Thursday morning. It was Atlanta that both New York teams were chasing. Prior to the Hudson River Derby, the Red Bulls sat three points behind Atlanta with NYCFC just a further point behind. Moreover, the Red Bulls had a game in hand over the East leaders and could have overhauled them with a win by three or more goals.
Now, that was never likely. NYCFC is no pushover, even if the Red Bulls had handed them a couple of thumpings earlier in the season. But the Red Bulls could have really put the pressure on Atlanta with a win. Now, they sit two points behind with both teams having nine games remaining.
All is not lost, of course. There is still plenty to play for. But with Atlanta leading the Supporters’ Shield standings, there is great motivation for both New York clubs to chase down the Georgians. This was a huge opportunity for both. In chasing for it, they scuppered the others’ chances also.
Atlanta United, obviously, still have their complete destiny in their hands. This result, by that measure, has no impact. But I am sure that if you asked Tata Martino if he was happy to see his closest rivals draw, I am sure he would have said yes. Because he knows that he and his team are the real winners.