The 'One Percent Derby' is certainly in a state of transition as the once star-studded tilt between the New York Red Bulls and the Los Angeles Galaxy is lacking, well, some stars. And for this latest incarnation of the Red Bulls team, that's perfectly fine.
Over the past few years, the Red Bulls have been among the biggest spenders in the league, with high-priced, high-profile internationals such as Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Rafa Marquez among others. But this year's squad is missing that seven-figure salary, headline-grabbing big name and yet, the team sits atop the Eastern Conference with an undefeated record.
The Galaxy, as well, have inked big names over the years, like David Beckham and Landon Donovan. The free-spending way of these two teams has led to the “One Percent Derby” moniker, an obvious nod of the head to the elitist quality of these two rosters.
But both teams head into this Sunday's match (5 p.m., ESPN2) in a lower tax bracket. Henry and Donovan have retired and Cahill has moved on to a payday in China, while Robbie Keane, the Galaxy's star striker, isn't quite the draw of those other names. The derby has moved into a different direction, this one lacking the luster of years past.
“I don't know if it's good or bad for the league,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “I think we still have two very good teams which is important. Yea, you know Beckham's not there, Henry's not there so you don't have the star power anymore but you still have two of the top teams in MLS going up against each other on ESPN. It should be a highly entertaining game. I hope we come out on top.
Kljestan is one of the faces of this Red Bulls team, a United States international who might not be a drawing card in the stands but has made quite an impact on this team. He has just one goal since being signed this offseason, but he is already being hailed by head coach Jesse Marsch for how he does the “little things” in making this team click.
Three wins and two ties in five matches is the evidence to date that maybe the “One Percent” approach from the Red Bulls in the past isn't part of their future.
With Henry and Cahill and the highest payroll in the league the past few years, the franchise only won the Supporters Shield in 2013, a disappointing haul of silverware given the resources sunk into the squad. But now under a new sporting director in Ali Curtis and with Marsch on the sidelines, the Red Bulls are positioned for greater team success.
The early strong start without the big names is counter-intuitive around these parts. The team is a marketing extension after all, named after an energy drink to draw attention to said product. Big names draw attention to cans of Red Bull, but not necessarily wins.
Curtis has assembled a team that, based off of early returns, has eschewed the pricey imports for team-building. Names like Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips, an Englishman who led the league in goals last year, are the type of players that won't sell a lot of B6 infused drinks but will win games.
All of which means that while it isn't the “One Percent Derby” right now, it is still a big game for this franchise.
“I was at that game several times when I lived in LA and worked for the national team,” Marsch said. “There was always a lot of media attention and the game carried a lot of weight. I'm excited about it, I respect LA a lot. They've obviously accomplished a lot the last five years. I still carry some of feelings about LA from my Chivas days.”
This offseason, the Galaxy did sign former English international Steven Gerrard, but he won't arrive till this summer after completing his obligations with Liverpool.