Within NYCFC's rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, there's personal familiarity.
It comes from playing each other at least twice a year, usually more with old scheduling and the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, as well as national team camps. NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson has a few connections to his arch-rivals and knows exactly who he most desperately wants to beat every time these days.
"It’s Aaron Long," Johnson told MLSsoccer.com. "There’s nothing better than being on the pitch against a close friend and crosstown rival then stepping off the field victorious.”
Long and Johnson are both regular squad members of the US national team. But Long only moved up Johnson's power rankings this offseason, when Bradley Wright-Phillips left the Red Bulls.
“It was BWP," Johnson said. "He’s a proven goal scorer, the one for the Red Bulls who we had to try and shut down every game. He’s a great guy, I know him well. He’s a really good person. But when you step on that pitch, all those things go out the window."
Wright-Phillips had great success against NYCFC, far and away the leading goal scorer in the Hudson River Derby with 12. Second place is a tie between David Villa and Daniel Royer with five.
This offseason the Red Bulls let him go, eventually signing with LAFC before the season started.
"I think he’ll be missed by the Red Bull fans, but we won’t complain that his amount of goals is taken out of the team," Johnson said.
The most recent Hudson River Derby came on the virtual stage, as Johnson beat Long en route to NYCFC advancing past the Red Bulls in the eMLS Tournament Special. Johnson and NYCFC are into the semifinals, which kicks off Sunday night (7 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes).
”It’s super exciting to get the opportunity to play in this tournament for a good cause," Johnson said. "I’m looking forward to the championship Sunday. ... Being able to compete, no matter what it is, is great. Us athletes are competitive by nature, it’s not being out on the pitch, but it’s good.”
During quarantine, Johnson has put his competitive energy towards video games, playing virtual games with friends on various video chat apps and some friendly Scrabble competition with his girlfriend.
Johnson declined to get into who was winning the Scrabble series.
“I’d have to let her answer the question, this would be putting myself in a terrible position to answer this truthfully," Johnson said with a laugh. "You’ll have to get her on the phone to see who’s winning the Scrabble games.”
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