The Hudson River Derby is upon us, with New York City Football Club crossing the river to Red Bull Arena this Saturday.
Hi Ben, thanks for speaking with us. How long have you been covering the Red Bulls?
This will be season number five of making the Red Bulls content flow with the View From 202 podcast; previous to this year I was also the managing editor of Once A Metro, the Red Bulls’ site on SB Nation, as well as a contributor to television coverage on the MSG Network.
What has been your highlight in that time?
Well to be honest they’ve been hard to find — my period covering the team has overlapped not only with the covid pandemic but also a period of trophy-less upheaval in Harrison, with multiple head coaches and sporting executives cycling through anticlimactically. While some isolated big game victories have provided an occasional jolt, it’s been somewhat of a doldrums period at the club for some time. The team’s 1-0 Open Cup win over DC United in Troy Lesesne’s first match as manager on Tuesday night is honestly one of the bigger nights in recent memory if for no other reason that it points to a future at the club, rather than the struggles of the recent past.
What are your hopes for the 2023 season?
That’s a question that seems to have a new answer every week this season. At this point, with the club well outside of any league contention, it feels fairly obvious to focus on the cup competitions, including the inaugural Leagues Cup. The last time the club played in continental competition, the 2018 Champions League semifinal run ended up sparking a powerhouse league campaign that ended with a Supporters Shield. Perhaps success in this new, heavily-hyped tournament could have a similar stimulative effect.
What do you think will be the deciding factor in Saturday's game?
Well, with the Red Bulls entering a brave new world under a new manager, it’s hard to say what tactical wrinkles could be in store. The team continues to deal with a series of injuries, and predicting lineups has been a fool’s errand through most of the year.
The team has struggled to score goals on regular basis since last summer, and early on Lesesne appears to have taken the shackles off a team that had become myopically focused on pressing structure. The most notable tweak in his first game in charge on Tuesday was to unleash previously-doghoused midfielder Dru Yearwood in a free-running support role in the attack. If the additional bodies flowing into the final third can find a way to connect, defending against the Red Bulls could become as annoying as trying to attack through them.
Recent Hudson River Derbies have featured a revolving door of heroes in recent years, and not often the star men. As always with derbies, the longest-tenured and/or local players are often pivotal — Omir Fernandez has hogged the glory in recent Red Bulls derby wins, so maybe it’s John Tolkin’s turn this time.
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