HANOVER, N.J. — They are the faces of their respective franchises and they’ve been at the forefront of the Hudson River Derby since the first encounter three years ago.
“From an outsider’s perspective this series has been a lot ‘Villa versus Wright-Phillips.’ In many ways it will be that again,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “But I think it will be the job of both teams to put [those] player[s] in positions to succeed as many times as possible and whichever team manages to do that will most likely win.”
There’s a lot of similarities between each team’s Designated Player. Sure, both are among the best strikers to ever play in MLS and their statistics have proven that the last three years.
But both Wright-Phillips and Villa are also extremely hard workers, as evidenced by their off-ball efforts and willingness to do whatever necessary to help their teams win. If that means playmaking, as Wright-Phillips showed with a pair of assists in a 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy at StubHub Center last Saturday, then so be it.
“They both would rather win than score. There’s no doubt,” Marsch said. “One of the things that makes both of them so special is it’s not just the goal scoring, it’s all the work they do to be real leaders for their teams and to set the example. When you have your best player, your top striker, your superstar that is willing to do all the work, that is the most humble, that is the most committed to the team concept — my God does it make it easy for the coach.”
The two have gone head-to-head battling for MLS’ Golden Boot, which Wright-Phillips won in back-to-back years, and the Red Bulls forward has had a distinct edge in the Hudson River Derby.
Wright-Phillips, 33, has 10 goals against NYCFC in 10 all-time meetings. He’s a big reason why the Red Bulls have a 6-3-1 advantage, including a 1-0 win last June in the U.S. Open Cup. Villa, 36, has found the back of the net four times against the Red Bulls.
“It means that he’s a big-game player,” Marsch said of Wright-Phillips. “When you grow up in Manchester, I think you know what derby matches are about. … He’s always been ready for these games. They’re exciting, they’re fun. He’s been able to challenge their backline and goalkeeper often. That will be the goal again.”
Proving his humble demeanor, Wright-Phillips shrugs off the impressive haul against the Red Bulls’ biggest rival.
“The derby has been good to me, but I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to answer that,” Wright-Phillips said. “It’s gone well for me. I enjoy playing in the game. I don’t put any more effort into the derby game, it’s just been like that.”