MLS Rivalry Week and the Hudson River Derby with Jake Zivin

MLS: New York City FC at Philadelphia Union
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The best and most historic rivalry matchups are happening this week in MLS. New York is only hours away from their own Hudson River Derby. The occasion was perfect for trying something new, so I had the opportunity to talk with Jake Zivin. The lead Play-by-play commentator for MLS Season Pass gave his takes on Rivalry Week and his expectations for the Hudson River Derby.

Beginnings and if any, special rivalries that you enjoyed covering?

“I spent almost 10 years as the play-by-play voice for the Portland Timbers, so the Portland- Seattle Derby in the northwest has a special place in my heart. I also think it’s because of its 49-year history going back to the NASL and multiple leagues, to me it’s one of the top matchups in MLS. But there are many other good ones like “El trafico” between LA Galaxy and LAFC. I’ve been able to call a couple of those games, including the one last year at the Rose Bowl in front of 80,000 people, a remarkable occasion. We have a new rivalry between St Louis and Kansas City, we love calling those games because of the natural rivalry between those two cities. We did the “Hell is Real” Derby on Saturday between Cincinnati and Columbus. The success that those two teams have had, recently meeting in the conference final last year, makes it a great rivalry”.

“Inter Miami and Orlando in the Florida derby as well. It might not be at the level of the other ones but it will grow, It still needs to get going but it’s a great match. Toronto- Montreal is happening on Saturday, another great derby because of what it represents. Then we have the Hudson River Derby, a real, organic, and natural rivalry that places them in the top tier of derbys. Especially this year because of where both teams are back at. They were fighting to get back into the playoffs in the past and now they are both challenging to go to the top of the Eastern Conference, a great derby is coming up.”

MLS: Inter Miami CF at CF Montreal
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Do you consider New York City FC- Portland a rivalry after what happened in 2021? 

“Probably not can’t go that far, but it’s a good point. In rivalries, geography helps right proximity being close will add to any rivalry and will create a natural one, but oftentimes, it also has to do with games and what happens in a meeting important games and some teams. Do you know winning this game and then the others winning the next time of New York City right? I think Philadelphia I think there was an argument maybe a year ago Philadelphia Union was a bigger rival to New York City than the Red Bulls because they met in the Eastern Conference final a couple of years in a row. 

There was the Covid game in 2021 when half of Philly starters were not available. New York City won the game, and then, of course, as you said, went to Providence Park to beat the Timbers, and in the MLS Cup the next year, Philadelphia got a little revenge. They win the Eastern Conference final and they go to the MLS Cup and lose in the greatest game of all time to LAFC. So the point is that sometimes it is the games and what happens in the games that can make the rivalry stronger than proximity. It will take a little bit more for Portland and New York City to get that rivalry status, I think, but that is a game that I’m sure for both clubs will always stand out, and whenever they meet, it’ll always be on top of mine as well. It’s also amazing to see that the Timbers are unbeaten at Yankee Stadium as well, especially knowing how strong New York is there.”

MLS: New York City FC at Philadelphia Union
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Any thoughts on the RBNY – D.C. United rivalry?

Yeah, the Atlantic Cup right I mean that to me it’s like the OG MLS rivalry way back when they were 10 teams, 12 teams you know what your way back at Marco Etcheverry when you had names like Giovanni Savarese for MetroStars at the time and continued in all eras of MLS.  that One and the Cali Classico, the Galaxy San Jose earthquakes are the original ones I think for the Red Bulls would be interesting to kind of survey Red Bull supporters. Would they think of DCor do they think of New York City like where is that kind of animosity and hatred even right in their hearts? But the Atlantic Cup is the OG and should always be celebrated”.

What do you expect from both teams heading into the Hudson River Derby?

“Yeah, I think it’s gonna be a really good game, the Red Bulls have changed a little bit under Sandro Schwartz. They are not quite like the old like the go go go right they’ll try to possess a little bit more when they win the ball, and it gets helped now they have quality right with Forsberg and with getting Luis Morgan healthy I mean, that’s like I’m signing a designated player right getting him back, especially in the form that he’s in now strong midfield really strong defense. You look really good against DC. They handled Cristian Benteke better than any team has this year, and that might not be super applicable to this game because that is kind of a unique task in MLS Benteke. He is the singular force, but it was still impressive what they did on Wednesday and how they handled them, they’re a really good team.”

MLS: New York Red Bulls at D.C. United
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“New York City seems to have figured it out. It’s a young team, a young group. Last year, I don’t think the roster was ever truly complete. I think Nick Cushing was kind of waiting to get all the pieces in the completed roster, and I think they probably have that now they’ve also grown a little bit, and I think when you have when you go so young is New York City football club has it’s gonna take a little bit of time, and they’ve given Cushing that time and it’s paid off, and they’re in great form right they won 5 of 6 climbing up the table There where I think they vision this group to be right when they put the roster together so I think it’s gonna be a great game.”

“I think this is one of the more intriguing Hudson River  Derby’s in years because they’re kind of they’re both kind of back right? I mean, the Red Bulls were there now the in the post-Sacha KIjestan think a few years to kinda get Get back to this level where you feel like they really contending the east and New York City the same right like obviously that the David Villa era is gone and then Tati Castellanos and Sean Johnson, Maxis on the team recovering from ACL injury that era is also you know is kind of gone and it’s a new one and it feels like I can take a couple of years to get that kind of new eras to where they wanna be, both clubs they have and so I think this is because of that one of the more intriguing River Derby’s that we’ve had in years cause they’ve kind of both teams have kind of like picked back up a little bit into the form that they want to be in”.

When it comes to individual talent, who has the upper hand?

“I think you look at the Red Bulls and I’ll say Luis Morgan has nine goals. Forberg is playing so well so yeah I think both teams have great individual players who are in wonderful form. We just talked to Nick Cushing earlier today and our kind of broadcast call and I asked him who really stood out to you as someone who is kind of taking that next step and that’s helped you get to where you are at this point in the season and the first name out of his mouth was Matt Freece and I think Freece right now having a third of the way through the season argument for goalkeeper of the league white and he has been fantastic.”

“Happy for him to get his chance. Was Andre Blake’s backup in Philadelphia right that wasn’t nobody was gonna break through there and get a chance for a goalkeeper there it’s like being a quarterback in American football. There’s only one and so you could be the second-best goalkeeper in the league, but if you’re on the same roster as the best goalkeeper in the league you’re not going to play, and not to say that that was the case with Matt, but you know any anybody who sits behind such a great player like Andre Blake you imagine that person wants to get the opportunity that freezes this year and it was Luis Barraza last year for the majority of the season. This season Freece has been the game-changer for the team and it looks like he will be in the XI for a while.”

We wrapped up the conversation by emphasizing the change of scenario for the derby. Should attendance meet expectations, this could be a small sample of whats to come when the stadium arrives. This will also be Zach’s first game at Citi Field so the expectations are high to say the least. A win by New York City pushes them to third place in the conference and more bragging rights over who is the driving force in New York City.

A special thank you to Jake Zirvin for taking the time for the interview.

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