Ultimate Guide to MLS Weekend: Red Bulls, NYCFC Enter Rivalry Week in Solid Form
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Friday, 20 May 2016 03:03

The New York Red Bulls and New York City FC are set to renew hostilities for the fourth time in the history of their young rivalry on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. 

Just over a month ago, the match between the teams separated by the Hudson River was set to be a battle of disappointing clubs in search of a needed victory. 

Since April 24, the pair of New York-area clubs have combined for six wins, three draws and one loss in 10 games. Jesse Marsch's Red Bulls are responsible for the lone blemish during the string of recent results. The Red Bulls fell 2-0 to D.C. United a week ago in a rivalry game that carries as much—if not more—importance than the one they will partake in on Saturday afternoon.

The Red Bulls responded to the defeat at RFK Stadium with a 1-0 win over the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, but one has to think they're saving their best performance for their trip to the Bronx. 

One player in particular who may break out for the team based in Harrison, New Jersey is Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored four goals across three rivalry showdowns in 2015.

The Englishman has scored on just three occasions in 2016, but the opportunity to hit the net is almost always there against a NYCFC defense that has been mired in criticism since the club's inception. 

The scoring prowess of David Villa and the drama surrounding the waste of money that is Frank Lampard have taken the spotlight away from the susceptible back four this season, and rightfully so since the pair of legends are major parts of the squad. 

Villa has found the back of the net 26 times since joining Major League Soccer and on eight occasions in 12 contests so far in 2016.

The 35-year-old has four strikes in his last three starts, and he enters Saturday with fresh legs after starting on the bench against Toronto FC on Wednesday. 

As for Lampard, his saga will continue until he becomes a regular fixture in Patrick Vieira's starting 11.

Everything about the 37-year-old's arrival on American shores has been shrouded in controversy; from his short stint at Manchester City before coming stateside last summer to his current injury problems. Lampard is currently one of the biggest busts in MLS history. 

The Red Bulls know exactly how that player-acquisition strategy works. In the years before Marsch's arrival in Harrison, big names—most notably Rafa Marquez—entered the club and failed to make an impact before leaving. 

Now the Red Bulls are the polar opposite of NYCFC as they have a flourishing academy that most recently sent Matt Miazga into the first team before the defender was sold to Chelsea in January.

Sean Davis, Connor Lade and Alex Muyl are among the homegrown players who could make a mark on the final result at Yankee Stadium. 

There is no doubt MLS wants the Hudson River derby to be the top rivalry in the league. Sides have been drawn across New York City and its surrounding areas, and the matchup will be front and center two more times this season, but there are plenty of fans in the Pacific time zone that will tell you the league's best rivalries come from that side of the continent. 

Those claims will be put to the test on Sunday as the Portland Timbers host the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Cascadia Cup, and the LA Galaxy face off against the San Jose Earthquakes in the California Clasico. 

The other big showdown between hated opponents comes from Children Mercy's Park as Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake renew their always-thrilling series.

Then there's the curious case of Philadelphia versus D.C. United. The two Eastern Conference sides are being forced into a marriage by MLS so that their true rival—the Red Bulls—can join NYCFC on the Rivalry Week marquee. 

Regardless of what rivalry you think is the best, Week 12 is guaranteed to produce fireworks that we'll be talking about well after Sunday.

Below is a look at the players and top game to watch over the next three days. 


Week 12 Schedule

D.C. United at Philadelphia Union (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, UniMas) 

New York Red Bulls at New York City FC (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, Fox) 

Houston Dynamo at Chicago Fire (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Columbus Crew at Toronto FC (Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Montreal Impact at Orlando City (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

FC Dallas at New England Revolution (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Real Salt Lake at Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, MLS Live) 

Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers (Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

San Jose Earthquakes at LA Galaxy (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) 


Players to Watch

Thomas McNamara, CM, New York City FC

The true X-factor in Saturday's showdown at Yankee Stadium could be NYCFC midfielder Thomas McNamara. 

McNamara has proved to be a better option in midfield than both Kwadwo Poku and Mix Diskerud, and he continues to improve under the tutelage of Vieira. 

Look for the former Chivas USA man to open up gaps between the Red Bulls trio of Felipe, Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty in order to create more space in the final third for Villa and the other attackers in the NYCFC lineup. 


Ola Kamara, FW, Columbus Crew

Ola Kamara's second audition for the vacated forward role in the Columbus Crew attack comes on Saturday against Toronto. 

The 26-year-old Norway international was ineffective as a target forward in Week 11 as he attempted to replace the traded Kei Kamara. 

If the Columbus striker fails to succeed in his second start of 2016, Crew manager Gregg Berhalter may have to call on veteran Conor Casey to get the job done. 


Zarek Valentin, RB, Portland Timbers

Trying to recover from a shocking home loss to NYCFC will not be an easy task for the Timbers as the surging Whitecaps come to Providence Park on Sunday. 

Zarek Valentin will be one of two full-backs charged with keeping Kekuta Manneh and Christian Bolanos under wraps on the wing. Manneh had a breakout performance against Toronto in Week 11, and Bolanos has scored in four of the last five games. 

If the Timbers leave the pitch with three points after 90 minutes, they will most likely have to thank Valentin in some fashion for his contributions. 


Game of the Week

Vancouver Whitecaps at Portland Timbers

There are a few matches in Week 12 that are crucial to the Western Conference playoff picture, but none of them are more important than the Cascadia Cup clash in Portland. 

The Whitecaps come into Oregon on the heels of a six-point week in which they dispensed of Chicago and Toronto. The recent performances of Manneh and Bolanos have been able to mask the team's struggles at forward.

Portland could force Blas Perez or Octavio Rivero to create the majority of the scoring chances if its full-backs choke out the influence of the wingers. 

Portland comes into Rivalry Week in ninth place with 12 points and a loss to Vancouver would drop them at least six points below sixth place heading into the final weekend of May. In order to avoid that fate, Caleb Porter's men will have to rely heavily on Fanendo Adi and Darlington Nagbe. 

We could also be treated to a masterful goalkeeping display on Sunday as David Ousted and Jake Gleeson come into Week 12 in good form.

Gleeson, who is filling in for the injured Adam Kwarasey, made 11 saves in the first meeting between the two sides on May 7. 


Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.

All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com.

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