For the first time in club history, FC Cincinnati will face a club for a fifth time in a calendar year. Two regular season matchups against the New York Red Bulls, a U.S. Open Cup fixture, and now a second Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Round One game after FCC took the opener 3-nil on Sunday night.
Rivalries are born over time, repeat meetings, and games with the highest stakes. In that equation, FCC and the New York Red Bulls are blossoming into a modern day blood feud as one of MLS’ newest clubs, and one its oldest, keep finding themselves locked in battles with their seasons on the line.
Saturday’s game with RBNY will be the third “knock-out game” between the two clubs since last season, fourth if you consider the final game of group play in the MLS is Back Tournament in July 2020, and the fifth when factoring in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup semifinals. The last six years have been littered with big games between these two clubs.
Meanwhile, there is a bridge in the historical gap between FC Cincinnati and New York. Defender Matt Miazga anchors the FCC back line, and is a tone setter on and off the field. On the pitch, Miazga is a MLS Defender of the Year finalist and a stalwart of a defense that allowed the fifth fewest goals all season, helping his keeper earn 12 clean sheets. Off the field, he keeps players accountable in tough stretches while serving as a valued veteran presence with a wealth of both European and American experience.
A native of Clifton, New Jersey, the Red Bulls are Miazga’s self-described hometown club. After just a year of high school, Miazga joined the Red Bulls Academy at the U14 level and rose through the ranks before being elevated to the first team four years later as a 17-year-old in 2013. With Clifton just 33 minutes (13 miles) north of Red Bull Arena, playing for his hometown team was an exciting turn for him, forgoing a scholarship at the University of Michigan to sign his pro deal.
“That’s my hometown club … but we have a job to do and make sure we get it done,” Miazga said, “It’s nice going back to Red Bull Arena.”
Miazga is expecting significant support from friends and family in New Jersey and the surrounding area, and has been asking teammates for any leftover tickets to Saturday's playoff tilt at Red Bull Arena.
In the way that Miazga and others speak of the play on the field, there is a growing respect between the two clubs being developed that points towards an understanding of the rivalry. While the battles are heated on the pitch, with Sunday’s opener in the Best-of-3 series seeing plenty of tempers flaring and physical play adding color to the match, the understanding of the ‘game within the game’ grows as FCC and RBNY play more consistently.
In that sense, there are very few better to analyze the matchup than Matt Miazga, who first hand got to know RBNY’s long-standing culture.
The defender is a vocal leader of FC Cincinnati while also being a physically-dominating player essential to FCC’s overall success. When facing New York, a club unafraid to play a feisty, chippy game, it’s important to toe the fine line between not being pushed around while also not losing composer and allowing the Red Bulls under their skin.
“It’s a lot of little mental games within yourself,” Miazga said of playing against the Red Bulls. “A lot of teams when they play Red Bull, they kind of play (RBNY’s) game. Which, credit to Red Bull, because they play a difficult game. The duels, the one-on-ones, the direct play, I was part of all that back in the day. Once you get stuck in it, it's hard to get out of it.”
“We made a couple mistakes and we can’t do that against Cincinnati,” Red Bulls head coach Troy Lesesne said. “Against a team with the quality like Cincinnati … we have to do better.
“They are physically equal to us, if not better in some ways. We have to respect the talent they have and the organization they have.”
It’s not clear if The Orange and Blue and RBNY are rivals. They have all the ingredients for a rivalry. The history, the passion, the converging play styles, the players. Saturday night could be another entry into the already long recipe book for a Red Bulls/FCC rivalry.
But regardless, the one man who has been at the center of both clubs is ready to play and wants to clinch the series at the place where he first came up … in front of his friends, family and former supporters.