On Sunday, New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls faced one another in the first regular season Hudson River Derby of the year. Usually never a disappointment, the game was expected to be a high energy and bitter battle, and the players gave the fans just that. It was also the first sellout crowd this season at Red Bull Arena, so the crowd added to the atmosphere on and off the pitch.
Meanwhile, both teams sat in second and third in the Eastern Conference respectively before the match. Now chasing the Philadelphia Union, the two teams each needed to win in order to be close in the standings. More importantly for NYCFC, they looked to take revenge on the Red Bulls after the New Jersey side knocked them out of the U.S. Open Cup.
In the end, the Pigeons did just that. For the first time since 2017, the Bronx side beat the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, 1-0. Valentín Castellanos scored the game winner, and led his team to all three points.
While there was only one goal, the fixture was still an entertaining, high energy affair. NYCFC might have controlled over 64% of the possession, but attack wise, it was a back and forth battle. The Pigeons did lead with 19 shots and nine on target, compared to the Red Bulls’ 14 shots and four on target. The difference though was that Sean Johnson and his defense were able to hold on for the clean sheet, whereas the red team could not.
New York City FC beat the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena thanks to Valentín Castellanos
Of course, New York City FC won because of Castellanos. The Argentine’s goal came in the 69th minute. Santiago Rodríguez used his Maxi Moralez like vision to spot the striker right outside the box. He then sent the ball ahead of where Castellanos was, and the goal scorer leader swiftly made his way toward goal.
As a result of the perfect pass, Castellanos had no one in front of him, and with one touch, sent the ball into the back of the net. The skill to lift his right foot up high and make contact with the ball, and then score as he fell, was superb ability. It was impossible to stop him, and that is why NYCFC went in front, and eventually won.
Like in Dallas, the defense though was on point, and kept the Red Bulls from scoring. Maxime Chanot was the star during the midweek fixture, but this time, Thiago Martins and Johnson were the stars of the defense. Martins had numerous clearances right near and in the box, and had two critical blocks. Anytime there was a threat, he was there, ready to disrupt the Red Bulls’ attack. He also made up for his own mistakes, for at one point he gave up the ball, but returned to then force a corner kick.
Then, Johnson had four saves on the night, and read the ball well. He did not take risks when the ball was near, and grabbed it in every opportunity that he had. He also played well out of the back, for he was calm and collected with his passing. He had no issue passing to his defenders when the opposition was close to him, and this was seen quite a bit in the first half when NYCFC was maintaining their possession in their own half.
Nonetheless, the focus will be on Castellanos’ goal, and rightfully so. He is destined to leave for Europe this summer, and the clock is ticking. In fact, there are now reports that the forward will be on the move to Girona Futbol Club, S.A.D. Details regarding the move are still to be determined, but City Football Group owns almost half of the club, so in some ways such a move makes sense.
If the Hudson River Derby is his last fixture, then that is one way to go out. Not only did he score, but he won the match for the Pigeons. Ideally he will get a curtain call at home, but again, time moves quickly. At the same time, there are again reports that state Castellanos will play one last time at Yankee Stadium.
Santiago Rodríguez was incredible for New York City FC too
Notably, Rodríguez had a strong performance for New York City FC against the Red Bulls as well. While most of his notable moments often come in the attack, his work in the defensive half continues to improve. In the first half, there was one moment where he not only recovered the ball near the line on the right side of the pitch, but he danced around Red Bull players like they were the plastic players used in training. His ability to maneuver around any opposition players is become a sight to see, and he has no problem using his fancy ability in the attack or defense.
Additionally, Rodríguez continues to be an opportunity creator. When he is all the way on the wings, he gets the ball into the box. When he is in the center of the attacking midfield, he takes on the role of Moralez, which was clearly seen during the midweek against FC Dallas.
Even in New Jersey, the Uruguayan used his passing intelligence. Again, in the first half, there was an opportunity where Rodríguez moved into the center near the box, and made himself available for Talles Magno. He received the ball, and then immediately passed the ball back to Magno, who had possibly the best shot in the first 45 minutes, but the curl caused the shot to go wide.
And as mentioned, it was his pass to Castellanos that led to the goal. His passing ability has been terrific, and improves in every match. But he can pick out players like Moralez, which is good for the club. Finally, for the first time in years, losing Moralez due to rest or injury is not the end of the world, for Rodríguez can play in his role, and play well.
New York City FC must find a way to get Rodríguez permanently from Montevideo City Torque. Both clubs are a part of City Football Group, so this is something that could be facilitated this summer. With Castellanos to leave soon, the Pigeons need to make sure they will have the attacking midfielder for some time, for he has been absolutely incredible this year, and is extremely valuable to the squad.