New York Red Bulls II (2-3-2) are coming off a thrilling 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Now they take on another Pennsylvania "rival" in the form of the Harrisburg City Islanders (2-2-2). Yes, those Islanders who have tormented the MLS Red Bulls in the Open Cup.
We talked to Raymond Stellhorn, editor at Reckless Challenge and President Emeritus of the Sons of Susquehanna (Harrisburg's supporters' group), to get the lowdown on the City Islanders.
1) Harrisburg got off to a slow start, losing their first two matches by a combined score of 7-2. However, since then, the team has gone 2-0-1. What has changed and how did things turn around?
This off-season Harrisburg experienced its largest roster turnover ever and the budget of this club is not the same as others so buying players is no something a lot of money is spent on. The club’s only head coach in its history has a special talent of building teams as the season develops and he has only missed the playoffs on two occasions. The team has had lighter schedule since the start and the players are getting to know each other better after what was a very brief pre-season did not allow for enough time to prepare for the season.
2) Who are the three best players on the squad?
Best City Islanders:
Goalkeeper- Nick Noble
Midfielder- Yann Ekra
Defender- Neil Shaffer
Best Union Loanees:
Forward- Jimmy McLaughlin
Forward- Antoine Hoppenot
Defender- Richie Marquez
3) How would you describe the history of the relationship between the Islanders and the Philadelphia Union? How would you describe the relationship in 2015?
Before the partnership with the Union the City Islanders partnered with the New York Red Bulls in 2009 and benefited by receiving goalkeeper Danny Cepero who became a fan favourite on the Island. The Union and City Islanders have both benefited, Sheanon Williams was plucked by the Union from the Islanders for his success on the Island. Loanee regulars Jimmy McLaughlin and Antoine Hoppenot were very important to the Islanders success the past couple of seasons. 2015 has been difficult, Philadelphia have been making loans only in their interest which is expected by does not help Harrisburg at all because all of the loanees except for Richie Marquez have been forwards which the City Islanders are strong in but the defence could use some help but have not gotten much. Last week Harrisburg received zero loans for the match at Wilmington (a team NYRBII lost to 3-0) and won 4-0 with only four players on the bench.
4) Do the Sons of Susquehanna plan on travelling to the match?
Yes, a van of SOS members will be making the trip to cavernous Red Bull Arena. SOS are projected to account for about 10% of the attendance at Red Bull Arena on Saturday.
5) The Red Bulls and the Islanders actually have a fairly contentious history with two hard fought matches in the Open Cup (both won by Harrisburg). Do you have any good memories or stories from either match (particularly the crazy 2012 one)?
At the time I was the President of the SOS and back then the group was still very young. In the last meeting in the third round of the Open Cup in 2013, the Islanders won in extra time after going down a goal. The Viking Army had a couple fans venture over Section 2 trying to pick a fight. Red Bull Supporters claimed the SOS stole a flag to cover up the fact that they stole a banner from the stadium. After the match there was an old field confrontation between fans following a pitch invasion by the SOS. Aside from those incidents, the match was incredible and the Red Bull fans brought a great atmosphere to the Island which Harrisburg fans did appreciate seeing.
6) What are your thoughts on MLS reserve teams competing in USL?
Personally, I have no problem with reserve teams playing in USL but I believe the league needs to strengthen loaning rules. Teams should not be allowed to loan eleven players for a single match.
7) What is your score prediction?
New York 1