The ebb and flow of the regular season in Major League Soccer is so fluid that it’s almost impossible to gain real traction.
New York City FC is finding out that success is somewhat fleeting in the MLS, as they’ve seen a once-cushy lead in the Eastern Conference dwindle to just two points following Sunday’s disappointing 4-1 loss to the second-place New York Red Bulls.
It seems like yesterday when City (9-7-6, 33 points) was on a league-best four-game winning streak and looking like the team to beat. But with Sunday’s defeat to the Red Bulls -- the fifth time in six meetings Blue has fell to the Red since its MLS inception last year -- City has been pulled back to earth. The Red Bulls (9-9-4, 31 points) have simply owned NYCFC in the Hudson River Derby, with the lone win for the two-year old City franchise coming July 3, a 2-0 conquest.
City is going to see Bradley Wright-Phillips in their nightmares, and with no chance at retribution, as the two teams are done facing each other in regular season action. Although he hadn’t scored in over a month entering Sunday’s tilt, the striker made up for the drought by netting two goals in the win in Harrison, New Jersey. He has now notched eight career goals against the Bronx squad.
The Red Bulls have won all but one of the Derbys – including five of the last six -- outscoring NYCFC 18-5. But the rivalry, although one sided so far, has been level in the amount of tension and vitriol the two franchises share for one another.
Sunday’s matchup wasn’t any different, as even the lead men shared contempt. NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira was tossed by referee Mark Geiger after having some choice words during the game’s first water break. Vieira, who publicly noted that he felt the referees were slanted towards the Red Bulls, exchanged words with opposing manager Jesse Marsch and then left the field during the game’s 34th minute.
Vieira said there’s no use in further getting into public spats and using the media as a tool to get a message across, as he’s inclined to run his team his way, while his New Jersey counterpart can run it his own way. Vieira is only interested in turning the page and trying to get his squad prepared and ready for their next match, an important July 30 date with the Western Conference’s Colorado Rapids (10-2-8, 38 points), following the All-Star respite.
His star players all echoed those sentiments, as City enters the break tops in the conference. It’s a far cry from last season when they were 6-9-6 at that same point and on their way to missing the postseason.
Frank Lampard, who saw his hot streak cool off in the loss, said he’s looking towards the bright side of things. And despite it being a bitter pill to swallow, the Englishman noted that City is still in a far better position than last season heading into the break.
“It’s a difficult league to go and win game after game,” Lampard said. “But when you look at the standings and you see we’re top, the difference from last year when we were struggling all year really, you can take confidence from that.”
David Villa, the league’s leading goal scorer who is heading to the All-Star exhibition to face Premiere League power Arsenal, added there’s still plenty of games remaining for City to regain itself and add distance between the rest of the conference.
“Of course we want to win derbies, but we are here for winning the league. We lost three points, but the reality is we are top of the table now. We are in a good position,” Villa said. “We have 12 more games and we need to be strong in the next 12 games for getting a good position in the table, nothing more. … We need to improve, of course, but this is a race. It’s a long race [and] it’s a lot of months for the race. If you see the table, we are in the first position.”