The inverse relationship between NYRB II and the New York Red Bulls continues: for as long as the first team was bad, the reserves were lighting up USL; now RBNY has shown a glimmer of its 2015 form, the second team has turned in easily its worst performance of the young season and suffered its first loss. Dallas visited Harrison on April 29, and lost 4-0 to the first team; Charlotte Independence came to Red Bull Arena on May 1st to play NYRB II, and left with two goals and three points.
Unlike RBNY, however, NYRB II's job isn't really to get results. The reserves exist to provide a development space for players, and the nature of that development - and the identity of those players - changes from week to week; as revealed by a quite remarkable statistic:
That is a lot of players to cycle through in less than a season-and-a-half of existence.
This week, NYRB II's immediate priority was to give a run to a slew of first-teamers. The starting lineup offered nine players with MLS contracts the chance to stretch their legs in USL. Most notably, Gideon Baah got his first competitive minutes since injury curtailed his run as one of RBNY's starting center backs.
There are things more important than winning for NYRB II; this week, one of those things was getting Baah through 45 minutes without serious incident.
The center back did manage to play the first half without suffering any noticeable injury, so we can assume the basic goals of the exercise were met. He also looked sharp and confident with the ball at his feet, pinging decisive passes around the field when given the opportunity. Unfortunately, that confidence might perhaps be blamed for the first goal NYRB II conceded.
In the 13th minute, Baah stepped over a low cross into the six-yard box, presumably preferring to leave it to a defensive partner to clear rather than risk attempting to touch a fast-moving ball from an awkward angle (he might easily have skewed it into his own net). It was an intelligent decision - if there had been a well-placed teammate behind him. But Justin Bilyeu wasn't positioned to get to the ball, and it curled into the path of Enzo Martinez. 1-0 to the visitors.
About 20 minutes later, Baah whiffed on an attempt to hook a deflected cross out of the air. The ball landed conveniently for Charlotte's Patrick Slogic: 2-0 to the Independence.
The center back is just returning to fitness from an injury sustained in mid-March, so it is fair to think he has a little rust to shake off. The 45 minutes he endured against Charlotte will have shaken him appropriately.
Baah's experience was much the same as the rest of his teammates: it was a frustrating match for NYRB II, with some promising work undone at crucial moments. As we have seen happen to RBNY in MLS this season, the reserves struggled to subdue an opponent willing to sit back and play for opportunities on the break. The Independence played smart, getting the ball forward quickly to their attacking players - Martinez in particular - and seeking to exploit a somewhat plodding RBNY defense with speed and close control. It proved very effective (though, curiously, John Wolyniec's decision to replace Baah with forward Stefano Bonomo did not lead to further critical breaches of the defense; Bonomo was not a convincing center back, but Charlotte could not find the decisive blow to make Woly regret his second-half experiment).
Much like Baah, NYRB II will have better games. Much like Baah, the team will seek to forget this experience quickly. Brighter days ahead for both Baah and the Baby Bulls, it is to be hoped.
The USL squad's next outing is against Pittsburgh Riverhounds on May 7, in Pittsburgh.