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John Wolyniec wins 2016 USL Coach of the Year Award

Just reward for the head coach behind one of the best single-season team performances in USL history.


New York Red Bulls II had one of the most successful seasons in USL's short (it dates back to 2011) history. The RBNY reserve team won the league's regular-season title. Along the way, it set some USL regular-season records: most points (69); most goals (61); most wins (21 - the league season is only 30 games); most away wins (13 - with an unbalanced schedule since NYRB II played a scheduled home game on the road to allow Red Bull Arena to nurture its playing surface).

And the team conceded the fewest goals in the league in 2016 (21), and shutout its opponents 16 times en route to the Shield awarded the team with the best regular-season record.

Then, NYRB II followed that performance with a run through the playoffs that saw the team follow a 4-0 opening-round win over Orlando City B with two flirting-with-disaster games (against Rochester Rhinos and Louisville City FC) that were settled on penalties. And then the II team rode a late flurry of goals to a 5-1 win over Swope Park Rangers in the USL Cup final.

Two trophies, a bunch of records: it was a good year for NYRB II.

It was an even better year when you take into account the particular challenges of running a reserve team in a competitive pro league. Head coach John Wolyniec had to deal with venue changes: the "home" game played at Harrisburg City Islanders' home field because RBA needed some time to itself; a match against Charleston Battery flipped out to the RBNY training facility on the other occasion Red Bull Arena had more important things to do.

And when the II team was able to play on its home field, it did so in one of the most notoriously subdued atmospheres in the league: average crowds at RBA for NYRB II games were less than 600 this season.

The team itself is first and foremost a development channel for RBNY's first-team needs. Over the course of the year, Wolyniec had to constantly shuffle his lineup for a variety of reasons. He only got five games apiece out of Sean Davis and Alex Muyl before their value to the first team was too great for further USL appearances. Anatole Abang dropped out of favor and was shipped out to Denmark midway through the year. Space had to be made for rehab starts for first-teamers such as Damien Perrinelle, Gideon Baah, Gonzalo Veron, and even a trial run-out for Amobi Okugo.

Injuries robbed the squad of playmaker Vincent Bezecourt for most of the first-half of the season, and Junior Flemmings went down in September. Midfield stalwart Devon "Speedy" Williams was also forced to sit out most of the run-in to the regular season and the playoffs. Versatile defender Konrad Plewa had a stroke.

Success breeds its own burdens: Woly saw players like Justin Bilyeu and (a little later in the season) Aaron Long often called away in the service of first-team cover. Others, like Noah Powder, had international call-ups that interrupted their time with the II team.

In the USL Cup final, Wolyniec's starting left back was Kevin O'Toole: an academy prospect who developed into a regular starter for the II team, mostly because preferred options (Bilyeu and Powder, basically) were so often unavailable - and weren't available for the final.

The 2016 season wasn't water-into-wine miracle-making on Wolyniec's part. He did have a lot of quality to work with, both in the squad and within the overall philosophy and infrastructure of the club.

The II team plays the same system as the entire Red Bull Global Soccer family: the same RalfBall style currently surprising Bundesliga. It is a proven and effective style of play, and one can argue that USL's generous (now abandoned) subs policy - five substitutions per game, rather than three - gave NYRB II an advantage. The physically demanding RalfBall approach is a little easier to manage if you can swap out half the team over the course of a match.

But much of the time, Woly was subbing in prospects from the Academy or the fringes of the II team's roster: high-schoolers, teenagers; rookies or not-even-pros. He was given a mixed bag of talent and experience to work with, and he pulled out of that bag one of the most successful single-season team performances in USL history.

Yes, the players get most of the credit. Brandon Allen, Derrick Etienne, Flemmings, Bezecourt, Florian Valot, Long, Dan Metzger, Tyler Adams, Williams, Ryan Meara, Powder, Bilyeu, Plewa, Zach Carroll, David Najem: this year's core squad was deep at almost every position.

But Wolyniec (and his assistant, Ibrahim Sekagya) must get credit too. Playing resources were often spread thin, between II team, first-team, call-ups, and injuries.

Managing the individual ambitions of each member of the team cannot have been easy either. The reserve team exists to serve the first team, it's results are secondary to the task of developing players for careers in MLS (and beyond: Anatole Abang is having a decent run with Hobro in Denmark's second tier and his national team, Cameroon). And if a first-teamer needs minutes to get sharp, or RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch just wants to see a particular player in a particular role - those matters are also prior to any particular result in league play.

Woly didn't turn water into wine this season, but he did make a limited supply of loaves and fishes stretch a lot further than might have reasonably been expected.

For that, and the record-setting regular season his II team turned in this year, he was always the standout candidate for USL's Coach of the Year award.

Fortunately, the league's voting panel saw things the same way.