New York City FC: Valentin Castellanos rains on the Red Bulls’ parade

New York City FC. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
New York City FC. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports /

New York City FC cruised past the Red Bulls, with Castellanos scoring three

When New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls meet in the Hudson River Derby, claws come out and sparks tend to fly.  These two teams hate each other, which is why any derby game tends to be a thrilling battle.  And Sunday night, the match once again was a dramatic and exciting thriller, at least more for the boys in blue.

The last time these two teams met, the Red Bulls won 1-0 after a controversial goal.  But this time around, NYCFC achieved the greatest revenge possible: they beat their rivals 5-2.  Plus, the Pigeons scored the most goals against them in derby history.  This is definitely one of those games where fans were missed, because if they were there, then Yankee Stadium would have been loud and rocking.

While the first half was a back and forth affair, the second half was a completely different story.  The Red Bulls started to falter defensively, and NYCFC took advantage.  Three of their five goals were scored in the second 45, and it included the winning goal from Alexander Ring.  The captain scored a golazo off of a throw-in and sealed the deal for the Pigeons.  Yet, they were still hungry and continued to attack.

New York City FC showed what they are truly made of

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Overall, this was New York City FC’s best performance of the season.  The five goals were just what the doctor ordered.  Defensively, the team was concise and compact, excluding the two goals given up.  The defensive players made interceptions and clearances like there was no tomorrow, and Sean Johnson added another three saves to his vast total.

But, it was Valentín Castellanos who was the star of the show and rained on the Red Bulls’ hope of moving up the standings in the Eastern Conference.  As discussed previously, the Argentine was struggling with goals.

Over the last few weeks, he started to improve his quality on the pitch, whether with shots or his overall work rate.  In the mid-week match against Toronto FC, he was an attacking force.  He did not score, but still had six shots and four on goal.  This production showed he was close to putting the ball past the goalkeeper.

Against the other New York side, but really New Jersey side, the 22-year-old continued to prove his worth even when he does not score.  He continued to attempt recoveries when the ball was lost and made crucial passes.  In other words, he was not just waiting for the opportunities to score.

Fortunately, Castellanos finally got his due and secured a hat-trick for New York City FC.  He even got the assist on the Gary Mackay-Steven goal, again, enhancing his quality as a player.  With any luck, the three goals and assist will hopefully awaken his confidence and cause Castellanos to be the reliable make-shift striker going into the playoffs.

For the Argentine, the hat-trick heroics started in the 12th minute.  His compatriot, Maxi Moralez, had an impressive kick into the box, where Castellanos was waiting.  The Red Bulls defense had fallen asleep, and this allowed him to head the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal.  This was the goal that awoke the silent giant of his scoring abilities and started the chain of raining goals during the rainy evening.

It was Castellanos’s second goal though that put the game to bed.  While Ring scored the winning goal, the Argentine’s second made the match 4-2 in the 76th minute.  Mackay-Steven, who had an impressive performance himself, swept the ball into the box.  Jesús Medina was open and made a pass right to Castellanos, and he sliced the ball into the back of the net with such power and precision.

Finally, the team’s new scoring leader sealed his hat-trick off of an 84th-minute penalty kick.  These goals were not just vital for NYCFC, but for the team as a whole.  All it takes is one player or two to find scoring success, and then it spreads.  Medina had a goal in the games against Montreal and Toronto, and since both the forwards have been criticized for lacking in the scoring department, the new-found success is promising and inspiring.

With the Hudson River Derby win, New York City FC will at least finish the season in 5th place.  Whether they move up the standings depends on the outcomes of Orlando City SC and the Columbus Crew SC’s final two games, and whether NYCFC can win on Decision Day.  Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, they currently sit in 8th place, and this is predominantly because of Castellanos and his incredible performance.

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In the end, Castellanos and his teammates are starting to look like a playoff-caliber team.  The fight and belief in one another are there.  More importantly, after winning 3-1, 1-0, and now 5-2 in their last three fixtures against teams all over the standings, the goals are finally there as well.  And, of course, New York is once again blue.