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MATCH PREVIEW – PDL PLAYOFFS – New York Red Bulls U23s vs GPS Portland Phoenix

Feel that playoff energy. FEEL IT.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls U23s are in the Premier Development League playoffs for the first time in team history. The team spent four seasons in the National Premier Soccer League, winning the 2014 league championship.

After claiming the regular season Mid Atlantic Division championship, they've advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship hosted at NJIT Stadium in Newark, New Jersey. In the semifinal they play the GPS Portland Phoenix on Saturday, July 25th at 7:30 p.m. The winner advances to the Eastern Conference Championship final to take on the winner between Jersey Express and the Charlotte Eagles.

How they got here

New York Red Bulls U23s

Managed by Rob Elliott, the Baby Bulls fought their way through the tough Mid Atlantic Division, finishing first and going 9-2-3. They lost two consecutive games at the end of May/beginning of June, but have been on a tear and are unbeaten in their last nine matches. The U23s ended the regular season with a 10-0 pounding of the Westchester Flames which helped them skip past the preliminary rounds of the playoffs.

The team is formidable, made up of a host of former Academy players and several unaffiliated college standouts. The Baby Bulls feature a diverse attack with many different weapons and a strong, seasoned defense.

GPS Portland Phoenix

GPS Portland Phoenix, short for Global Premier Soccer Portland Phoenix, is based in Portland, Maine after purchasing franchise rights from the Cape Cod Crusaders in 2009. Like most unaffiliated PDL clubs, they feature a motley crew of current college players, internationals hoping to be scouted, and former professionals looking to keep playing. Led by manager Ally Bain, the club finished tied for first in the five-team Northeast Division with an 8-1-5 record. They lost their first match of the season in May to the Seacoast United Phantoms, and haven’t lost since.

They won their first playoff match on Tuesday, July 21st, beating Seacoast in extra time, 2-1, in front of 850 fans at Yarmouth High School. James Smith scored in the 103rd minute to seal the victory and send the Phoenix to the semifinals.

Although soccer rarely adheres to the transitive property, Portland tied Eastern Conference Championship hosts Jersey Express, 0-0, in late June. The Baby Bulls beat the Jersey Express, 3-1; however, it’s also important to note that the Jersey Express also beat professional USL team New York Red Bulls II in the Open Cup.

Key players

New York Red Bulls U23s

Evan Louro (goalkeeper) – Louro is a massive physical presence, standing 6’3", 230 pounds and has started nine matches for the Baby Bulls. After a successful youth career with the Red Bulls Academy, he currently attends the University Michigan and has received call ups to various levels of the United States youth national team.

Zach Knudson (midfielder/forward) – Knudson spent his youth career with PDA and has emerged as a reliable offensive threat for the Baby Bulls. He can play striker, attacking midfielder, and winger, and has even featured at defensive midfielder for NC State. Knudson is a key part of the diverse, potent attack.

Mael Corboz (midfielder) – The former Academy player and current Maryland Terrapin is a constant threat on offense and contributes to a well-balanced Baby Bulls attack.

Timothy Schmoll (defender) – The Swiss center back is a towering 6’6" and currently attends Harvard. Schmoll anchors the backline and has drawn the attention of Jesse Marsch, recently training with the senior MLS squad.

Adam Najem (midfielder) – A latecomer this summer, the former Academy midfielder is arguably one of the best amateur players in the country. After being announced as a summer signing for the Michigan Bucks (also in the PDL), he went on a training trip with his college team (Akron) to Brazil before appearing on the U23s roster. Najem’s made an immediate impact on the field, scoring and assisting on multiple goals.

GPS Portland Phoenix

Quincy Appah (midfielder) – The Ghanaian midfielder recently finished his collegiate career at Division II power Franklin Pierce and is quick to join the attack.

Fabian Burnett (midfielder) – Burnett spent two years at Monroe College and is transferring to Manhattan in the fall. He’s quick to join the attack and is a constant scoring threat for GPS.

James Smith (midfielder) – A 29-year old English midfielder, he is the club’s leading scorer and scored the game winner against Seacoast United in the first round of the playoffs. Smith spent some time professionally with Conference South Club Eastbourne Borough F.C.

Matthew Williams (goalkeeper) – A local, 27-year old player from Portland, he had five shutouts in ten matches in goal. Williams has professional experience, having played with the Dayton Dutch Lions in USL Pro.

Some questions heading into the Eastern Conference Championship

- Will Arun Basuljevic be back with the team? The talented player – who was named the National Freshman of the Year and earned a whole host of other accolades with Georgetown last fall – was training with Norwegian club Stabæk, and would certainly make an impact if on the field for the U23s.

- Can the young Baby Bulls hold their own against a Portland team stocked with former professionals and plenty of players over the age of 23?

- Who starts in goal? Louro has been given most of the minutes at keeper, but backups Michael Lansing and Joseph Ohaus have impressed in college and with the U23s. Lansing was in net for the NPSL Championship last season and brings experience to the position; Ohaus (who spent a few years with the Red Bulls Academy spent his final year with PDA) impressed during his freshman year at Duke, taking control of the position.

Where does the winner of this match go?

The winner advances to the Eastern Conference Championship final, which is on Sunday, July 26th and will also be held at NJIT Stadium in Newark, New Jersey. The winner of this match will advance to the national final four hosted at a yet to be determined site.

Can we watch?

Unfortunately, the match will not be streamed. We’ll to our best to keep you updated via our Twitter account.

Score prediction

3-2 win for the New York Red Bulls U23s.