New York sports have been in a bad place of late.
For too long, most of New York’s sports teams have been struggling. It’s as if there’s been an extended COVID-19 travel ban on New York teams going to the playoffs.
With the exception, however, of the two local Major League Soccer teams — NYCFC and the Red Bulls.
Both have qualified for the MLS playoffs, and they played each other Sunday night at Yankee Stadium with postseason-seeding position and — perhaps more important — Hudson River Derby bragging rights in the balance.
On a night that began with driving rain soaking the Yankee Stadium field, NYCFC ripped the Red Bulls, 5-2, to seize those bragging rights and enhance their playoff position. NYCFC scored four unanswered goals, after trailing 2-1, and were led by a hat trick from forward Valentin Castellanos, who entered the match with two goals all season.
The Red Bulls and NYCFC are about all we have right now in what is a barren New York sports landscape.
Sure, the Yankees made a playoff run, but they’re the Yankees, and they’re always in the mix. The Islanders provided a nice diversion with a spirited run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But that’s been about it.
The Jets are 0-8, after Sunday’s loss in Kansas City, and haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010 — four general managers and three head coaches ago.
The Giants enter Monday night’s game against the Buccaneers with a 1-6 record and are 13-43 dating back to their last playoff game, in the 2016 season.
The Knicks remain the perennial laughingstocks of the NBA, eight years removed from their last playoff appearance. The Nets just introduced their new head coach, Steve Nash, with hopes of becoming more relevant in the New York sports scene.
The Rangers are in the throes of a youth rebuild, their franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist bought out of his contract after 15 remarkable seasons and is now a member of the hated Capitals.
The Mets, who haven’t been to the playoffs in five years, just welcomed in new billionaire owner Steve Cohen, with hopes that he’ll spend the money the Wilpons were unwilling to part with on star players.
Until any of that happens, we have NYCFC and the Red Bulls.
It hasn’t been artistic, but at least they’re both headed to postseason and are playing games of consequence.
With the win Sunday night, NYCFC improved to 11-8-3 with 36 points and is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls, who had their five-game unbeaten streak snapped, are 8-9-5 with 29 points and dropped from sixth place to eighth. Each team has one more regular-season match after this one.
The goal is to remain inside the top six, because seeds Nos. 7 through 10 must play a play-in match to enter the first round.
NYCFC captain Alex Ring broke a 2-2 tie in the 51st minute with a majestic left-footed blast into the top left corner of Ryan Meara’s net. Castellanos made it 4-2 in the 76th minute and then capped it at 5-2 with a penalty-kick score in the 83rd minute.
“We have a lot to fight for, trying to get into that top four and staying in the top six,’’ NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said prior to the match before adding, “Of course, we want to show who’s the best in town.’’
That’s exactly what NYCFC, which had lost 1-0 to RBNY on Aug. 20, did Sunday night.
New York’s team now. New York, after Sunday night, is NYCFC blue.
“We are proud to come from New York, the best city in the world,’’ Deila, a Norwegian native, said after the match. “We want to be as they are. New Yorkers are hard-working, ambitious and winners. That’s what we want to be. I think our team shows those kinds of values when we play.’’
Those values were on display Sunday night. The question is whether NYCFC can carry this momentum into the playoffs and win the MLS Cup in only its sixth season of existence.
If NYCFC does, in fact, go on to win it all, it would be a death blow to the Red Bulls, whom despite having a terrific run of success — this season is their 11th consecutive making the playoffs, and they’ve captured the Supporters Shield three times — they have yet to win the MLS Cup in 25 years in the league.
“We want to be a team for New York,’’ Deila said.
They’re all we’ve got right now.