U.S. Markets closed

Héber's audacity punctuates NYCFC win in burgeoning Hudson River rivalry

Eric He
Yahoo Sports Contributor
Héber and NYCFC made a stylish statement in a 2-1 win over the Red Bulls on Saturday. (AP)

NEW YORK — A rivalry doesn’t form overnight. Both teams have to have their moments at the expense of the other.

After Saturday, it’s safe to say New York City FC has entered that conversation in the Hudson River Derby.

A gutsy, spectacular goal by Héber gave NYCFC the lead and ultimately a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls at Yankee Stadium, lifting them six points clear of the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

And they did it in defining fashion.

In the 53rd minute, right back Anton Tinnerholm worked his way to the touch line before picking his head up and sliding a pass to Héber, whose finish featured a backheel that caught veteran Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles off-guard and nutmegged him:

It was the type of goal, the type of moment that will help NYCFC continue to make its stamp in this rivalry. NYCFC had won just one of the previous six meetings and five of 14 overall.

“In the game, you have one second to think,” Héber said. “I am thinking very fast and I am happy because I scored.”

Don’t think. Just do. NYCFC head coach Doménec Torrent said he wanted his team to play with personality. He wanted everybody to defend, or else there was no way they would beat the Red Bulls.

And NYCFC had to come from behind to do so after allowing an early goal 10 minutes in, a powerful left-footed finish by Alex Muyl:

NYCFC star Maxi Moralez drew and then converted a penalty kick before halftime, and Héber took care of the rest.

“Maybe it’s the best performance for sure, in my period here, against Red Bulls,” Torrent said. “One hundred percent.”

These two teams have each had their moments — the Red Bulls’ 7-0 beatdown of NYCFC in 2016, NYCFC clawing out a 1-1 draw last season despite playing with 10 men for the final 50 minutes.

But six of the first seven derbies had gone the Red Bulls’ way since NYCFC entered the league in 2015. Despite making the postseason the last three years, NYCFC has lagged against the team across the Hudson. If the theatrics around Yankee Stadium on Saturday were any indication, a statement was made.

Throughout the match, the scoreboard flashed a graphic rotating the city’s five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. NYCFC ran out to the field to Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind.” “Safe in New York City” by AC/DC blared right before kickoff. And after the final whistle sounded, Hello’s “New York Groove” sounded as fans chanted “N-Y-C.”

The not-so-subtle marketing message? NYCFC is New York City’s team.

Like many rivalries, geography helped establish this one. One could argue NYCFC is to the Red Bulls what LAFC is to the Galaxy. When LAFC entered the league last year and set up in the heart of Los Angeles, it made the case that it was L.A.’s “true” team because the Galaxy actually play in Carson, 13 miles south of the city. In New York, NYCFC bills itself as the only MLS team in New York’s five boroughs, as the Red Bulls play in New Jersey.

“They were definitely a lot of people tonight and they were loud the whole game,” NYCFC midfielder Keaton Parks said. “That definitely helps us to play for our fans. [To] have them there supporting us even when we went down it gave us [an] edge out there.”

Red Bulls coach Chris Armas was not happy with NYCFC's stall tactics in the second half. (Reuters)

For this night, NYCFC took on the LAFC role, frustrating the region’s elder team. At the end of Saturday, it was Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas venting frustration during the postgame press conference.

Unprompted, he called out NYCFC for wasting time late in the game. He accused the opponents of delaying, changing the spot of throw-ins and asking for new balls. He asked MLS to review it.

“Our team would never do this,” Armas said. “Is that the league we’re going to be? Our guys come here, we try to push a game, and OK, teams can slow things down, fair enough. But to take it to that degree – no one came here today to see that, not even their supporters.”

Here was a controversy brewing, the type of public animus that imbues any rivalry with staying power.

After a big win like that, Torrent wasn’t interested in feeding it.

“I agree,” he said, when told of Armas’ comments. “I agree with Chris.”

One step at a time. Signature moments, heated encounters, and noise off the field. This night had everything that makes a rivalry worth watching.

That’s exactly what the Hudson River Derby has become.

More from Yahoo Sports: