After a dominating Orlando City B in the USL Eastern Conference quarterfinals, New York Red Bulls II knew immediately what was up next: a semifinal against an old foe. If it sounds strange for a two-year-old team to have an old foe, such is the quirk of scheduling and circumstance that has seen NYRB II play Rochester Rhinos seven times in its short history, and never once emerge victorious.
Three of those games have been at Red Bull Arena, starting with NYRB II's first-ever competitive game back in 2015. That match ended 0-0; so too did the two home games this season. Now head coaches John Wolyniec (NYRB II) and Bob Lilley (Rochester) will match wits for the eighth time in two years.
"Every game means a lot to me, but playing these guys a bunch of times and not getting the better of them - it's certainly going to add a bit to the game. But we realize that this is an opportunity to test ourselves, and test who we are as a group and individuals, so we can prove that we will be able to fight for another day," said Wolyniec, "If we win this game then we can fight another day and prove ourselves again, but we are taking it one game at a time."
Goalkeepers have often been at the fore in Rhinos-Red Bulls match-ups of late. Be it NYRB II's Ryan Meara or Rafa Diaz, or USL 2016 Golden Glove winner Tomas Gomez.
"They are a challenge: you have to give credit to Bob Lilley. They do a great job, they work really hard, they fight, they are organized and it's not going to be easy on us. But we feel like we are a good team and we are in the best form all year with the results that we've gotten, and we feel comfortable playing in our home stadium," Wolyniec said of the upcoming October 7 rematch with the Rhinos.
So far in this series, these teams have confined all the goals between team to Rochester. In their most recent encounter, on September 10th at Rhinos Stadium, Asani Samuels got the home team on the board in the 58th minute for a second-half lead. That lead held until the 89th minute, when Vincent Bezecourt equalized.
Derrick Etienne Jr. has been NYRB II's brightest star this season, and his form has caught the attention of both his first team coach, Jesse Marsch, and Haiti's men's national team. After due consideration of his options, Etienne has decided to follow in his father's footsteps, pledging his international future to Les Grenadiers. But Hurricane Matthew has made travel to meet the team impossible, and he has been given permission to play Friday's game against Rochester before seeking to link up with the Haiti squad.
Etienne knows the challenge presented by the Rhinos very well.
"We are always disappointed that we can't get our goals against them, but we are always satisfied when we get a clean sheet against a tough opponent like them. We have been working at training against a defensive team like them, lately we have been scoring goals so we hope we can get on top of them," said Etienne, "We know we are talented and we know we just have to be confident and go out there to finish our chances. We talked about our front four who have been great, but unlucky to hit the post a couple of times. We feel lucky...that we will be lucky out there and break them down."
The New York Red Bulls are taking a break from MLS action this week, so NYRB II is the only show in town. Head on over to Red Bull Arena for a 7:00 pm kick-off on October 7 to see the II team make its case for a place in USL's 2016 Eastern Conference final.