There may not be anyone on the New York Red Bulls who has a better understanding of a good old fashion New York rivalry like Dylan Nealis.
Having grown up on Long Island, Nealis knows just what it means when two New York teams go up against one another and what’s at stake. Add to that already charged mix, two teams near or at the top of the standings and you have quite recipe for a game.
That will be the case on Sunday when the Red Bulls host NYCFC at Red Bull Arena on Sunday night. The Red Bulls currently sit at the top of the table with City in third.
“It’s going to be a huge game,” Nealis said in a phone interview with amNewYork. “I kind of like to call it a six-point turnaround. If we happened to pick up three points, we stop them from getting those three points. I think we have two games in hand above them right now, so it would be huge in the standings. If they happened to come out on top it would place them over us. … But it would be huge and we’re going to be familiar with each other.
“I think both sides should be well prepared, it should be a good game.”
Nealis may already have a leg up on NYCFC and the rivalry having trained during his senior with the Red Bulls rival, which included keeper Sean Johnson.
“Now when I see them it’s like I got to be rivals with them,” he said. “It’s all good. I’m getting more and more used to it. Making sure New York is redder, everything I can do with that. It’s all good, I’m enjoying it.”
The two New York clubs have already gotten to know one another pretty well having just faced each other a few weeks back in the U.S. Open Cup. The Red Bulls came away with a dominating win over the Manchester City-backed soccer team, 3-0, in a scrappy affair in New Jersey.
A total of 10 misconduct were called in the first Hudson Derby game of the year, which included red cards called against the NYCFC and the Red Bulls.
“I didn’t know what to expect going into it, whether it was going to be crazy and how much soccer was going to be played,” said Nealis, who participated in his first Hudson Derby matchup this season. “If it was just gonna be two teams battling it out and it was kind of both. … It was everything that I expected going into it with a couple of fights here and there. I was definitely expecting that.”
Aside from the bragging rights that will be on the line, the Red Bulls are focused on keeping their lead in the Eastern Conference. NYCFC will face Dallas on Wednesday before Sunday’s nationally televised matchup with the Red Bulls, so a win for New York’s original MLS club is crucial.
The Red Bulls have just two losses in MLS play since June and they’ve fallen just five times this season. New York’s success has been a bit of a surprise among the soccer pundits, but the Red Bulls have enjoyed the underdog mentality that they’ve used this season.
“I think we’ve surprised a lot of people obviously being a young group,” Nealis said. “We don’t mind being the underdogs. I think we go into every game with a chip on our shoulder. I think quite in a few games we’ve had a few fights and stuff. Maybe it’s just the way the opponents see us. Maybe they don’t like playing us, I know for a fact a couple of teams around the league hate playing against the Red Bulls and we love that.”
Nealis has been a part of the Red Bulls’ success this season since being acquired from Nashville in February. The Massapequa native said that he had a transitional period once he arrived, but he felt that he’s made big strides since then.
He was also a bit familiar with the team’s style having watched his brother and fellow defenseman Sean Nealis play for the Red Bulls last season. “I think my skill set fits this Red Bulls style perfectly and hopefully I just keep continuing to improve,” Dylan Nealis said.