With New York Red Bulls and New York City FC having secured two of six playoff positions in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, local soccer fans can dare to dream of a postseason matchup between the two teams later this fall.
Optimally, the Red Bulls and the Citizens would face off in the Eastern Conference finals, giving MLS a high-profile matchup in the nation’s largest city that would further inflame a growing rivalry and enhance a growing sport.
The matchup would undoubtedly fill Red Bull Arena’s 25,189 seats and could drive tickets sales above 40,000 (maybe 50,000?) at Yankee Stadium. A two-game tie could also capture the attention of a reluctant New York sportsmedia that has given both teams cursory coverage in recent years.
For NYCFC, a tumultuous offseason that included the firing of first year coach Jason Kreis and the hiring of Patrick Vieira turned out to be the right move, at least in the near term. While many — including me — questioned the impatience shown in the dismissal of Kreis after only one season, Vieira’s influence on the team has been clear as he has managed to successfully mesh veteran stars such as David Villa and Andrea Pirlo with youngsters Jack Harrison and Khiry Shelton.
It’s been a tale of two season for Red Bulls, the defending Supporters’ Shield winners, who started the 2016 campaign by losing six out of its first seven but have not lost a match since its 2-0 defeat at the hands of NYCFC on July 3.
But head coach Jesse Marsch steadied the ship. All-star Sacha Kljestan has been strong influence at midfield and Bradley Wright-Phillips has again reached the 20 goal mark to lead the offense. And Luis Robles has had another terrific season and proven to be among the league’s most reliable keepers throughout the 2016 campaign.
While the New York clubs battle Toronto FC for the two top spots in the east in an effort to avoid the single-elimination knockout round that starts October 26, they will also look to stay healthy and get injured players in game shape.
If things break right, the fall sports scene in New York could be dominated by the world’s most popular sport. And with a little luck, the traditional battle long seen in England of blue vs. red could come to the Big Apple with a possible place in MLS Cup on the line.
And that would be a dream come true.