Open Cup Clash Presents RBNY & NYCFC With Decisions, Opportunities

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

A young but fierce rivalry will be renewed Wednesday as Red Bull New York hosts New York City FC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. The soccer tournament – the longest running in the United States – which features both professional and amateur teams, has not been kind to either squad in the past. Though more than pride will be on the line, it’s unknown how much emphasis both managers will put on the match.

In their two previous attempts, NYCFC has failed to emerge from the fourth round – the first in which MLS teams compete. In both cases, they have embarrassingly fallen to their 2nd division rival New York Cosmos. After losing on penalties in 2015, NYCFC surrendered a Danny Szetela header in the 89th minute to lift the NASL squad to a 1-0 victory last year. However, manager Patrick Vieira sent out a very weak roster, captained by Mix Diskerud, designed to rest his starters. He didn’t even include David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, or Frank Lampard in the team sheet, as it was clear he took the competition lightly.

Fortunately for the Pigeons, however, the Cosmos embarrassingly crashed out of the tournament this year to Reading United of the fourth division PDL. Though NYCFC will not have to face their Open Cup tormentors, they will be facing their league tormentors from across the Hudson River. In six meetings, the Red Bulls have won five, including the infamous 7-0 thrashing at Yankee Stadium last season. The lone NYCFC victory was followed by a very public spat between the clubs when the victors took a celebratory photo that rubbed the Red Bulls players and staff the wrong way.

For all their history, in 21 years the Red Bulls/Metrostars organization has never won the tournament, and they’ve only made one appearance in the final, in 2003. Since 2006 they haven’t even made it past the quarterfinals. Like Vieira, the Red Bulls have been guilty of fielding substandard US Open rosters in the past. Juan Pablo Angel only played in one Open Cup match during his illustrious career. Thierry Henry didn’t play in any.

It’s still unclear how the managers will approach this match. Will they risk a bitter loss to a rival, or risk their best players being injured or exhausted in a match that won’t even be televised?

On one side of the river, however, some clues point to Jesse Marsch treating Wednesday’s match with less gravity than he might other MLS ones. Their USL affiliate New York Red Bulls II played on Sunday afternoon, and the lineup may provide insight into Marsch’s thinking. The most glaring clue was the exclusion of Derrick Etienne Jr. from the team sheet. The lively forward started the season with the first-team but, after ineffective play, has recently been getting significant time in the lower division.

When asked about his absence, NYRBII manager John Wolynac confirmed that Marsch and sporting director Dennis Hamlett had made the decision. That Etienne was held out of the entire match, and not even given limited playing time, suggests that the Red Bulls expect him to play on Wednesday. Given his lack of success in MLS earlier this year, it’s safe to assume that he would likely not play in a league match against their rivals.

As far as the Red Bulls are concerned, Wednesday may be an opportunity for reserve players to get playing time against MLS opponents. We may see the likes of Etienne, Gonzalo Veron, Aurelien Collin, and Ryan Meara for extended periods of time. One player RBNY would struggle to replace in the lineup is Sacha Kljestan. Without the captain on the field this season, they’ve struggled mightily to create offensive opportunities. It may present  an opportunity for Sean Davis to reestablish his place in the rotation.

On the flip side, should Viera decide to rest his starters again, Wednesday will be an opportunity to get forwards Ugo Okoli and Jonathan Lewis significant playing time. RJ Allen, Kwame Awuah, and Eirik Johansen may also be called upon to step into the lineup.

Irrespective of how both managers approach Wednesday’s match, it’s one that will likely be filled with energy and aggression. A mix of rivalry with the desperation of players looking to prove themselves will make for one of the more compelling iterations of the Hudson River Derby.

WHO: Red Bull New York vs. New York City FC

WHAT: The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup

WHEN: Wednesday, June 14th at 8:00pm

WHERE: Red Bull Arena