I must admit, I’m not the biggest soccer fan in the world. That said, I have started to watch more and more over the years. The last few weeks, I have found the two international tournaments, UEFA Euro 2016 and Copa America to be highly enjoyable. The crowds, the intensity, and the passion by the players for their sport and their countries is prevalent. As those tournaments start to wind down and come to an end, it makes me turn to MLS. I have and will start to pay more and more attention to the two MLS clubs in this area, the Red Bulls and NYCFC.
As we get set for a holiday weekend ahead which for many of us will include the beach, BBQs and fireworks, make sure to throw some soccer into the July 4th weekend as we have ourselves a big match on the pitch when the Red Bulls visit Yankee Stadium to face NYCFC on Sunday with a noon start time (ESPN). In short, the Red Bulls have stamped themselves as the Kings of the Tri-State area going into the meeting.
Since NYC came into the MLS, the Red Bulls have won all four meetings. In the last meeting, they pasted NYCFC, 7-0, which is a score that is rarely seen on any level of professional soccer. Red Bulls fans are calling it the “Red Wedding” - an obvious Game of Thrones reference.
MLS has tried to make this into a bigtime rivalry, but so far NYC - despite having the second highest payroll in MLS - isn’t coming close to competing with the Red Bulls.
NYC has three of the top seven salaries in MLS between Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa. The Red Bulls’ most expensive player is at No. 42, Bradley Wright-Phillips. It is all about the team concept for the Red Bulls. They continue to prove that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is a dramatic turnaround from two years ago when they had the likes of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill on their roster, two of the five biggest salaries in MLS.
The concept, brought on board by sporting director Ali Curtis and head coach Jesse Marsch has worked. Both Curtis and Marsch are in their second years and continue to prove that they are ahead of the curve. The Red Bulls won the Supporters’ Shield, MLS’ equivalent to the Presidents’ Trophy, for best record last year. They did this with the lowest payroll in MLS and no superstar players. They certainly do not have the big names like NYC’s aging trio of Villa, Lampard and Pirlo, who are all over 35-years old. Oddly enough, NYCFC represents the past and the Red Bulls represent the future. NYCFC might have won the press conferences, but the Red Bulls win where it matters most.
NYCFC’s payroll for 2016 is just under $21 million. How about the Red Bulls? They are south of $6 million.
This offseason, the Red Bulls continued this movement by signing seven players from their academy system. Their New York Red Bulls II, the minor league team coached by John Wolyniec, is near the top of the USL.
All this adds up to show that the Red Bulls are currently the kings of New York and don’t show any sign of letting go of that mantra anytime soon. Sunday should be more of the same. You have one program trying to gain a foothold, while another continues to show its dominance in the match-up.