Matches against rivals are always intense, and that intensity gets ratcheted up as the stakes get higher. Such was the case in 2014 when the New York Red Bulls were all that stood between the New England Revolution and their fifth MLS Cup final appearance. The Revs prevailed 2-1 in the 1st leg of the Eastern Conference finals at Red Bull Arena on Jermaine Jones’ game-winning goal, then they punched their ticket to LA with a nervy 2-2 home draw days later. A conference championship? Sweet. Over your bitter rivals? Even sweeter.
New York Red Bulls
Record: 7-3-1, 22 pts, +14
Standing: 4th in Eastern Conference (4 points below 1st; 4 points above red line)
Current Form: D-W-W-W-W
Despite winning the club’s first-ever Supporters Shield in 2013 — his first year as Red Bulls’ manager — Mike Petke inexplicably lost his job following that conference finals loss to the Revs in 2014. In stepped Jesse Marsch after one failed season in Montreal as their first-ever MLS coach. He departed the Canadian club over irreconcilable coaching/philosophical differences, but he and his bosses in the Big Apple are working quite well together. Only in his fourth season in New York, he’s already built up quite the resume: 2015 Supporters Shield; 2015 and 2016 Eastern Conference first-place, 2017 Champions’ League quarterfinals, 2017 US Open Cup Final, 2018 Champions League semifinals. All of which makes last year’s 6th place finish — just ahead of the Revolution — seem like an outlier.
To ensure players were ingrained with his playing style and tactical approach, and to build a deep roster, Marsch started a risky youth movement. He slowly weeded out veterans who didn’t fit the system or when he felt youngsters were ready to step in and take their place. The Red Bulls’ CCL run to the semifinals this past spring — without sabotaging their MLS season — shows that his gamble is paying dividends.
Despite having already played 17 total matches, including 3 in the Champions League before First Kick, New York’s depth was crucial in both enduring that long CCL run and ensuring a solid start to the league season. And they seem to be built for the long haul, which is critical, as the Red Bulls have played just 11 MLS matches. Only DC United and Seattle have played fewer. That means there’s a lot of catching up to do, another depth test. Faced with similar circumstances, FC Dallas in 2017 didn’t fare so well. Toronto FC in 2018 is having a tough go at it, as well.
Thus far in 2018, the Red Bulls’ offensive play has been superb. Their 26 goals through those 11 matches have them on pace for 80 scores, which would be an MLS record. The New York attack often finds the feet of longtime Red Bull Bradley Wright-Phillips. The Premier League veteran and first-ever 2-time MLS Golden Boot winner is once again among the league leaders in goals with eight, and he’s assisted on five others, just two shy of his MLS career best for a season.
With Young DP Alejandro Romero Gamarra — better known as Kaku — brought in as play-maker, US international Sacha Klejstan was deemed expendable and shipped to Orlando. The Argentina native — now a Paraguay international after his one-time switch — has come as advertised, already producing three goals and a league-leading nine assists in Marsch’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
His partners in crime have been excellent, as well. Austrian international Daniel Royer has produced three goals from the left wing, as has Frenchman Florian Valot from the right, but the latter has also contributed four assists. Providing depth has been Colombian Carlos Rivas, German Marc Rzatkowski, Homegrowns Alex Muyl and Derrick Etienne, and France native Vincent Bezecourt. The group has provided six goals and seven assists on the season. Haiti international Etienne recently joined Revolution midfielder Zachary Herivaux for a friendly match vs Argentina, coming on as a second-half sub.
The attack has been stellar, but the defense — expected to be a work in progress — has been even better. New York has given up just 12 scores all year — 2nd best in the Eastern Conference. That puts them on track for only 37 goals allowed in 2018. Backline protection from defensive midfielders Sean Davis and US international Tyler Adams has been outstanding. The Homegrown Davis has also contributed three assists as a catalyst in the attack. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, Adams has been called to national team duty and will not make the trip to Foxboro. Replacement options for Marsch include Bezecourt, Rzatkowski (if back from injury), Muyl and defender Conor Lade.
The backline itself has been staunch, but it’ll be missing key pieces, as well. Centerback Tim Parker has joined Adams for two US friendlies and won’t be available. The Red Bulls will also be without right-back Michael Amir Murillo and backup centerback Fidel Escobar, who are with Panama ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Veterans Aurelien Collin and Lade will likely slot in as defenders in their stead, or maybe Marsch goes with the 3-man backline he’s used before. Remaining present for starting duty are Jamaican international Kemar Lawrence at left-back and 2017 returning centerback Aaron Long.
US international netminder Luis Robles recently injured his knee, causing him to miss New York’s last two games and thus ending his ironman streak of 183 consecutive league matches. The 2015 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, who has three shutouts this season, could be back to face the Revs. If not, the experienced Ryan Meara will be ready to go. He’s filled in admirably over the past two matches — a win at Atlanta United FC and a draw vs the Union — making eight saves, allowing one goal, and posting a shutout.
Record: 5-4-4, 19 pts, +3
Standing: 5th in Eastern Conference (2 points above red line)
Current Form: D-D-L-W-L
The Revs rescued a home point on Wednesday in a 1-1 draw with Atlanta United FC at Gillette, thanks to a Teal Bunbury penalty kick near the end of regulation. Second-half substitute Krisztian Nemeth was brought down in the box by Five Stripes’ sub Kevin Kratz to set up Bunbury’s equalizer, his team-best 7th goal on the year. Atlanta had opened the scoring in the 23rd minute on Josef Martinez’s league-leading 9th goal, and they probably should have had a few more if not for poor finishing and the heroics of New England’s backline, not to mention goalkeeper Matt Turner’s six saves.
First-year manager Brad Friedel returned to his early-season 4-2-3-1 formation, with Bunbury as the lone striker and Cristian Penilla-Diego Fagundez-Luis Caicedo left-to-right across the attacking midfield. Scott Caldwell returned to the starting eleven as a holding mid alongside Wilfried Zahibo. The backline featured Chris Tierney-Jalil Anibaba-Antonio Delamea-Andrew Farrell left-to-right. Tierney was replaced by Gabriel Somi late in the first half due to a potentially long-term injury. Nemeth replaced Zahibo, and Kelyn Rowe came on in the latter stages for Caldwell. Juan Agudelo remained inactive due to injury.
This was a draw that felt like a win. The Five Stripes were undoubtedly the better side, not necessarily in the stat line, but talent-wise and execution-wise on both ends of the pitch. Turner was phenomenal, eliciting high praise from legendary keeper Friedel. The Revs struggled to contain Atlanta’s high-powered attack and almost paid the price. Offensively, the high-pressing attack was somewhat effective in creating chances. However, when New England was forced to build out of the back, they had a difficult time creating meaningful chances. This has become a lingering issue that probably needs to be addressed by Friedel and his staff sooner than later.
The Revolution and Red Bulls are essentially carbon copies of each other. Both are high-pressing squads that try to create pressure deep in their attacking half to force turnovers and quickly produce chances. There’ll be no surprises on Saturday. It may just come down to execution. However, with Wright-Phillips and Kaku in the mix, the Red Bulls clearly have the more talented striker and number 10, respectively. New York also has a decided edge defensively. which likely tips the scale in New York’s favor.
A wildcard in this match may be the play of those Red Bulls called on to fill the three vacant starting roles. Along with their home field advantage, can the Revs exploit this?
This match is the 71st all-time regular season meeting between these historic rivals. New England owns a 29-26-15 record, with a Foxborough mark of 21-6-7.
Since 2013, the Red Bulls are just 2-3-1 on the road vs the Revs. New York, however, won back-to-back road matches against New England last season, earning a hard-fought 3-2 league win at Gillette and then a 1-0 victory at Jordan Field on the campus of Harvard in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup.
The Red Bulls are currently on a 5-match unbeaten streak and are seeking their fourth straight road win after losing the first two away from home in 2018. New York only had five road wins in 2017.
New England has won just once in their past five matches, with two draws and two losses.
The Red Bulls are 6-1 when scoring first, but the Revs are undefeated at 5-0-2. New York is 1-2 in matches in which they’ve conceded first, while the Revolution are winless at 0-4-2 when initially falling behind.
The Red Bulls are 3-2-1 vs Eastern Conference teams. New England is only 2-3-3 against Eastern clubs.
Of New York’s 26 goals on the season, 10 have been scored after the 75th minute.
The teams’ second and final regular-season meeting of 2018 occurs at Red Bull Arena in late July.
How to Watch
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 2
Venue: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
TV: NBC Sports Boston (Boston); MSG (New York)
Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub (Boston); New York Red Bulls Radio (via Tunein) (New York)
Streaming: MLS Live (now on ESPN+)