The New York Red Bulls have staggered through seven games of their 2016 league campaign with just one win, no clean sheets, and a succession of losses. Conversely, NYRB II is sailing.
This week's 1-0 win in Wilmington extended the Reserve Red Bulls' unbeaten streak to five games. It was also the team's fourth consecutive shutout. It was by no means an easy win, or even an obviously deserved one: the Hammerheads had a decent penalty shout declined and an injury-time goal waved off for a foul on the 'keeper.
But the team that deserves to win is the one that scores the most goals - and that team in this match was NYRB II. The Red Bulls and the Hammerheads traded scoring chances freely, but only the visitors found the back of the net (without incurring the referee's objection; both teams had goals disallowed).
Fittingly, since both sides created plenty but couldn't finish, the game's only goal was scored after an excellent chance was spurned. In the 59th minute, Stefano Bonomo banged a free header into Wilmington 'keeper John Smits - and Dan Metzger pounced on a weak effort to clear the rebound. It was Metzger's first goal as a professional, it says here, and it proved to be the match-winner.
NYRB II will be encouraged by another strong performance from 'keeper Rafa Diaz, as well as what has become the customary stand-out play from attacking midfielder Derrick Etienne. Metzger is the sixth NYRB II player to score so far this season, a handy stat considering top-scorer Brandon Allen hasn't found the net in his last three outings.
This week's shutout relied as much on good fortune as good goalkeeping and defending, but a good team makes its own luck. And a bad team rarely seems to catch a break. As RBNY has stumbled hopelessly through its opening seven games, the reserves have provided the silver lining to the cloud hanging over the first team's season. Whatever malaise has afflicted the MLS side, one need only watch the USL team in action for reassurance that the current condition of the first team need not be permanent. The Red Bulls can win - both games and the referee's indulgence - without compromising their playing principles.
But sometimes, as NYRB II demonstrated this week, even a team in good form needs a little luck. A team in bad form needs quite a lot of luck; perhaps the Back-Up Bulls will lend some to their senior counterparts.
The USL squad will seek to extend its unbeaten start to the year on May 1 against Charlotte Independence. Kick off is at 4:00 pm at Red Bull Arena.