Stats Zone: How NYCFC finally beat the Red Bulls

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Six weeks after losing 7-0 to the Red Bulls, New York City FC finally beat its rival for the first time in five tries. Christian Araos analyzes how:

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NEW YORK -- New York City FC now sits atop the Eastern Conference after beating the New York Red Bulls 2–0 Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Jack Harrison’s goal and assist paced NYCFC, which was able to handle the Red Bulls’ pressure far better than the last time the two teams met -- a 7-0 win for the Red Bulls on May 21 on the same field. David Villa scored his league-leading 12th goal in the 66th minute to seal the victory. It was Villa’s first goal against the Red Bulls and NYCFC’s first win against the Red Bulls in five all-time meetings.

It is also the first time City has ever topped the table. Here’s how New York, for now, turned blue:

NYCFC stuck to its principles

NYCFC could have lost 11–0 to the Red Bulls and head coach Patrick Vieira would still want his side to play from the back against them. Vieira emphasized that throughout the week but did make a modest change. Forced by an injury to Ronald Matarrita, Vieira moved R.J. Allen to left back and started Jason Hernandez at right back. Hernandez and Allen dropped deeper and spread center backs Jefferson Mena and Frédéric Brillant to the edges of the penalty area. That forced the Red Bulls to stretch themselves while pressing, opening up passing lanes for City to find the midfield and play forward.

The best example of NYCFC’s success, Frank Lampard said, came in the team’s second goal. Harrison led the break, setting up Villa, but the chance was created from Lampard’s outlet pass and Saunders’ toss.

“We had to move the ball quickly and crisply ‘cause they do press very well,” Lampard said. “They probably knew we were going to build from the back; maybe they thought we were going to change but we believe in the way we want to play. As long as we move the ball fast, we can get out because we have quality.”

Josh Saunders turns orchestrator

NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders will never be Manuel Neuer but the oft-criticized goalkeeper had one of his better games in goal. His positive goalkeeping broke up a chance for Gonzalo Veron in the second half and Saunders was mistake-free. But his biggest impact was with his feet. He made all eight passes in his defensive third and handled every back pass played to him.

The ability for Saunders to be NYCFC’s ‘first attacker’, as David Villa put it, allows NYCFC to retain possession with all 11 players. And for the oft-criticized Saunders, a good game with his feet keeps his position as NYCFC’s starting goalkeeper secured.

Veteran midfield shuts Kljestan down

Lampard’s Hudson River Derby history includes getting nutmegged by a former Leeds United player and being booed by his own fans, but now he can add to that resume leading NYCFC to its first win over its biggest rival. His inclusion to an elderly midfield with Andrea Pirlo and Andoni Iraola has driven NYCFC to three straight wins.

Lampard did not appear on the scoresheet but had a hand in the buildup to NYCFC’s second goal. He, Pirlo and Iraola found pockets of space to help City break the Red Bulls’ press. Equally as important was their ability to deny Sacha Kljestan a chance to influence the match. Iraola occupied the space which Kljestan uses to create chances, while Lampard and Pirlo compacted the midfield to deny him service.

If a compact midfield can render Kljestan moot, then the Red Bulls are in serious trouble. Though fourth in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls have already lost nine of 18 matches. They are tied for the most losses in MLS and tied for most road losses. Nine of their last 14 matches of the season are at home, but their margin for error is small -- and it slims if teams can bunker in and keep the Red Bulls off the board.

New York City is expected to come down to Earth during the second half of the year with more road games ahead. However, if Vieira is stubborn enough to not change his ways after losing 7–0, then he’s going to have his side going for three points each time on the road. It might not always work, but if NYCFC can pick up half of the 30 points available on its road trips, then the playoffs beckon. That time period will also vet just how serious of a contender this team is.

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