(Andrea Pirlo (left) and David Villa (second from right) were on hand at the adidas Store in Midtown for an autograph session on Tuesday – Photo by Jason Schott)
New York City Football Club is entering perhaps the biggest back-to-back of their season, as they take on Toronto FC on the road this Sunday, and then host the Red Bulls in the latest installment of the Hudson River Derby on Sunday, August 6.
NYCFC is coming off a huge 2-1 win on Saturday against the Chicago Fire, overcoming that they had to play down a man for the final 80 minutes of the game. NYCFC (11-4-6, 37 points) is now just one point behind Chicago, who are in second place with 38 points (11-5-4).
NYCFC defender RJ Allen, who was at an autograph signing at the adidas store in Midtown Manhattan with his teammates on Tuesday, said of where the team is now after the Chicago win, “We’re firing on all cylinders. After a win like that, it helps the camaraderie of the group, gets us closer. The team really played hard for that win, it took a lot out of us. We defended extremely well in the box, and that’s how we got the result. We work hard for each other, and we took advantage of our set pieces to do it. It was good.”
Allen said of playing with 10 men for the final 80-plus minutes of the match, “It’s definitely difficult. I don’t know why, but for some reason, it brings a team together. Everyone fights extra harder for each other when they’re down a man, and everyone worked really hard, and we got a really good result.”
Toronto, who earned a tie against NYCFC a week ago Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, is in first place with 40 points (11-7-3).
NYCFC midfielder Tommy McNamara said of how NYCFC feels about their position heading into these two games, “We’re in a good spot. The game Wednesday night (2-2 draw against Toronto) didn’t go quite as planned, but to come away with four points (out of six) isn’t a terrible spot to be in. Now we go away for Toronto off a really good performance, a lot of character shown by the team and it should be a good week of training and it should be a really good game up in Toronto.”
On the budding rivalry that NYCFC is building with Toronto, McNamara said, “They’re a really good team. I think so far this year, us, them, Chicago, we really have been pushing the pace in the east, so these are really big games for us, they’re enjoyable, and they should be.”
The Red Bulls came out of the international break with a vengeance, as they won 5-1 over San Jose at home a week ago Wednesday and 3-0 in Minnesota on Saturday. They are in the fifth playoff spot with 32 points and a record of 10-2-8.
NYCFC has faced the Red Bulls twice this season at Red Bull Arena. The first matchup on June 14 was a US Open Cup matchup, won by the Red Bulls 1-0. Ten days later, NYCFC was back in Jersey and they beat the Red Bulls 2-0 on goals by Jack Harrison and Ben Sweat.
McNamara said of the rivalry with the Red Bulls, in which the teams are at the point of matching win-for-win after early domination by the Red Bulls, “That’s definitely a rivalry. If you like sports, that’s always a huge game. They always play very well against us. We played really well at their field, and I’m sure they’re going to come into our field and they’re going to be looking to get one back on us, get the three points back. So that’s going to be a huge test too.”
Allen said of the Hudson River Derby, “The Derby’s been good. Obviously, we got the better of them the second time around, the first (MLS) regular season game, that turned out well. I think over the course of this upcoming year the rivalry will continue to grow. It’a a game the fans really want, and it means a lot to them. As players, it’s a great game to be a part of. It’s definitely exciting to be a part of those games.”
On the fact that the Hudson River Derby has drawn around 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, Allen said, “That’ll be good. We beat them once at home already, so hopefully we can do it again.”