By Peter Schwartz
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On May 21, 2016, Daniel Royer was playing for FC Midtjylland in Denmark when he turned on the television to watch a soccer match. It wasn’t an English Premier League contest, a Serie A tilt from Italy or even a match in the German Bundesliga. Royer was actually tuning in to watch a Major League Soccer match that would have an impact on his future.
“I remember when I played in Europe, I saw the game on TV when the Red Bulls won 7-0 against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium,” recalled the 27-year-old Royer, who would join the Red Bulls later in the 2016 season on a transfer as a discovery player.
“When I signed last year, that was definitely one of the games that I was looking forward to the most.”
Royer gets his wish Sunday at 6 p.m. when the Red Bulls visit NYCFC in the latest chapter of the Hudson River Derby at Yankee Stadium.
This season, the rivals have split a pair of meetings, with the Red Bulls winning 1-0 on June 14 in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup at Red Bull Arena. Ten days later, also in Harrison, New Jersey, NYCFC came out on top 2-0 in the first MLS matchup between the two teams this season.
The red-hot Red Bulls lead the all-time regular season series against NYCFC 5-2, and they have a chance to pass their cross-river rivals in the Eastern Conference standings Sunday. Heading into this weekend, the Red Bulls — winners of four straight MLS matches, outscoring their opponents 15-3 — sit in fourth place in the East with a record of 11-8-2, for 35 points.
After a rough start, the Red Bulls are now just two points back of third-place NYCFC heading into what will certainly be a hard-fought and emotional match.
“Of course, we’re expecting a tough game because that’s what rivalry games are,” Royer said.
While the Red Bulls have been on fire recently with five straight wins in all competitions, Royer has been terrific individually with at least one goal in four straight MLS matches, the second-longest streak in MLS this season and the longest active streak. He has 10 goals overall in the regular season and is second on the Red Bulls to Bradley Wright-Phillips’ 11 tallies.
Royer and the Red Bulls have certainly shifted into high gear as they have also pulled to within three points of second-place
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“I’d say the last two months I think we’re playing quite good,” said the Red Bulls’ gifted midfielder. “I think we’ve always been confident and we’re always convinced that, at some point, it’s going to work out. Finally things are working out pretty well. It’s really fun to play right now. I’m in dangerous spots, and I can get some finishes.”
Royer’s success in finding the back of the net has included a pair of two-goal games and the conversion of two penalty kicks. His emergence as a dangerous player to form a potent 1-2 combination with BWP has coincided with the Red Bulls’ rise from seventh place in the East at the end of June to 12 straight league points and right back into the MLS Cup conversation.
After back-to-back regular season conference titles, including a Supporters’ Shield win, the new-look Red Bulls stumbled out of the gates with a mix of new veterans and young players. But the team has jelled over the last couple of months, and that sets the stage for what could be a special evening at Yankee Stadium.
“I just think we should focus on our game and focus on the things we did the last couple of weeks,” Royer said. “I’m really confident that if we bring that on the pitch, I have a good feeling that we’re going to get out with three points.”
And if that happens, Royer and the Red Bulls will head back across the George Washington Bridge having leapfrogged their rivals in the standings. As they pass that sign that reads “Welcome to New Jersey,” the Red Bulls are hoping to show, once again, that New York is red.
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