HARRISON, N.J. — New York Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty admitted after his club's 2-0 win over New York City FC on Sunday night that he wasn't completely sure of what NYCFC would throw at his side in terms of big-name players.
When the starting lineup was released, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa were all called upon by NYCFC boss Jason Kreis to try to secure a win over their rival. But as the match progressed, the pricey triumvirate found little space against the young defenders and experienced midfielders in red and white.
After a frantic beginning to the match, the Red Bulls began to assert themselves with their trademark high pressure. The press used by the Red Bulls created little space for Pirlo to work with out of his defensive midfield position.
“We didn’t know how they were going to play. That was obviously a little bit of a guessing game. We figured that Lampard would start, but obviously when you have three players of that quality, you want to make sure you’re tight on them," McCarty said.
"We know Pirlo from watching video. When teams give him time and space to just spread the ball wherever he wants, it’s killer."
The midfield trio of McCarty, Felipe and Sacha Kljestan worked relentlessly to shut down the Italian, who displayed more frustration than individual brilliance over 90 minutes.
“That was the first time they played against the Red Bulls, but we were very prepared for this match. All of our players know what the Red Bulls are about, and we know how we can tactically get at them, which I think you saw in the first 25 minutes of the game," Kreis said.
NYCFC left its imprint on the match during the electric start in front of a sellout crowd at Red Bull Arena, but once the game found its pace, the hosts began to take over.
"Give them credit. They had some chances where we lost them and Lampard got through on one or two, and maybe if he’s a little sharper, he puts them away," McCarty said.
While the Red Bulls admitted they weren't perfect on the night, they did make sure they frustrated the midfield duo of Pirlo and Lampard as well as Villa up top.
"We wanted to make sure that [Lampard and Pirlo] didn’t have an easy day. Credit to Sacha, Dax and Felipe. With heavy legs, I think they took it as a personal challenge, playing against great players like that, to make sure they were going to be hard on them, and they were going to shut them down quickly," Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsch stated.
United States U20 international Matt Miazga, who has played Villa tough all season, allowed the Spaniard to put only one shot on target over 90 minutes.
The Red Bulls received a bit of a scare at the start of the second half as Lampard worked from a more advanced role, with Pirlo still directing traffic from the back. That alteration, combined with the switch of Thomas McNamara and Mix Diskerud on the wings, allowed NYCFC to have some success in the final third.
"In the middle of the second half, I thought [our] three guys were a little bit heavy, and that’s when Pirlo and Lampard got going a little bit. It was a frantic game. They were able to break us down and switch play at moments, but for the most part, the pace of the game was set by our players," Marsch said.
As Lampard continued to push further toward goal, Kreis brought on Kwadwo Poku to try to equalize the contest after Bradley Wright-Phillips netted the first goal of the match in the 21st minute.
"We took out [Andrew] Jacobson so there was somebody that was going to be holding deep. Frank wanted to be a little more involved in attack. Pirlo took that upon himself to balance out the midfield," Kreis said.
But as the push for an equalizer continued, frustration also began to sink in, especially on the face of the Italian midfield maestro, who may have been caught off guard by the physical nature of the match.
"[Pirlo's] not a typical defensive midfielder. He’s not a guy who’s going to battle, duel and go in for tackles. He wants space to play penetrating passes, play long balls and do all the things everyone loves to do on the field," McCarty said.
"When you put him in a tough game, then you really challenge him. I thought he got frustrated. He was still very good, but he still got frustrated and that was a credit to our midfield and our forwards," the Red Bulls captain continued.
When the final whistle blew on the last regular-season Hudson River derby of 2015, the Red Bulls were on top for the third consecutive time. Although beating a rival is nice, the Red Bulls have higher goals they want to achieve as the MLS season starts its run toward the playoffs.
“This is just another game that gets us one step closer to the playoffs, and we’re trying to catch [first-place] D.C.," McCarty said.
Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JTansey90.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.