FROM STEVE BRENNER IN NEW YORK
It’s a derby steeped in absolutely nothing.
Normally when two local rivals clash head on, the history books are overflowing with memories of mayhem from years of fraught battles.
Yet when the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC meet on Sunday at Red Bull Arena, it will be a nervy first dance for both.
NYCFC were planted in one of the world’s most aggressive media and sporting markets at the start of the season for matches like this.
After all, rivalries create huge interest.
The phoney war hasn’t needed an invitation to get started. With no playing history to call upon, there’s little else.
Red Bulls have been mocking their friends in the Bronx after song sheets were distributed to fans recently. ‘Study up , Sunday’s coming ‘ , they tweeted with a snigger.
Cue NYCFC fans group ‘The Third Rail’ digging through the archives to reveal something similar from the Red Bulls former incarnation as the NY Metro Stars.
Some have reverted to calling them ‘the Energy drink team.’
Be careful with those handbags, gentlemen.
City’s PR drive also crows about being the only real team residing in one of the Big Apple’s five boroughs, never wasting an opportunity to illustrate how Red Bulls are more a New Jersey side than one which resides in New York itself.
There are only 20 miles between the two yet this Hudson River battle is already getting both sets of fans excited.
Red Bulls lost their unbeaten start to the season at the weekend yet , after a summer of serious upheaval which saw popular manager Mike Petke follow star turns Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill out the door, they are looking a decent bet to make a strong play-off push.
New boss Jesse Marsch is a highly regarded coach in the US , having impressed during stints in Chicago and at the now disbanded Chivas USA. His teams are solid and functional without being spectacular.
Cahill and Henry were not replaced yet the Red Bulls have something their friends across the Hudson would kill for – continuity.
NYCFC also have a respected leader in Jason Kreis. Yet the man who won the MLS Cup with Real Salt Lake in 2009 is quickly realizing just putting together a group of players and starting from scratch is anything but straightforward.
City have won just one of their first nine games and last weekend’s defeat to a Seattle side inspired by Oba Martins and Clint Dempsey brutally illustrated just how much work needs to be done.
David Villa has been struggling with hamstring and hip problems – he was a half-time sub against the Sounders but should start on Sunday – and it goes without saying that Kreis needs him firing.
Similarly, Frank Lampard’s arrival cannot come soon enough. Of course when Villa is on the pitch , City look like a totally different proposition. When the Spaniard is sat on the bench however, the paucity of Kreis’ squad is laid bare.
They were widely expected to be average and so it’s proving.
There have been some positives – US international Mix Diskerud will be a key man while unheralded players such as Ned Grabavoy and Mehdi Ballouchy have also impressed.
Nevertheless, just like their cousins in Manchester, a long hard struggle beckons.
The bottom line is Villa , and Lampard when he finally gets here, need to be healthy and firing on all cylinders to prevent their opening season dalliance turning into the dampest of squibs.
MLS is a world where bucket loads of Abu Dhabi dollars cannot help paper over the cracks.
Yet the support mustered has been impressive.
Playing at Yankee Stadium is , and never will, be suitable . However with crowds healthily averaging around 28,000, there are there indicators this sport infested city could do with a soccer team
The accessibility of the Bronx for Manhattan fans is certainly a winner and a problem for the Red Bulls who have seen some fans discard the often over lengthy journey from the city to New Jersey in favour of a ticket to watch NYCFC up on East 161st street.
That said, interest abounds for both.
The New York Post, which devotes most of its pages to the major US sports, have regularly given NYCFC great shows in the paper while the Red Bulls are also represented well.
There should be a full-house in Harrison with a rarity in MLS – a healthy contingent of away fans who are able , for once , to make a journey which is not more than three hours on the road.
It’s hoped that the type of derby ferocity so often displayed in the Barclays Premier League is transplanted to this side of the pond.
There are no guarantees – either of quality or atmosphere given the newness of the circumstances – yet the build-up and posturing from both sides points to a feisty battle for bragging rights.
“I played for Man City v United, Charlton v Millwall but there is sure to be a lot of hate in this game, “ Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips told Mail Online.
“It’s a rivalry in a big city although one with no history yet but I am excited about it. People on social media make sure I know what it will all be about.
“Sometimes you need the intensity levels to go up.”
How the MLS money men will be wishing this becomes a legacy which captures the imagination.