Perhaps it all started too easily: five minutes into the match, Gideon Baah launched a long ball forward that evaded the entire Bethlehem Steel back line and was punched into the net by Brandon Allen. Up 1-0 thanks to the sort of defending school teams would be ashamed of, the New York Red Bulls II were maybe guilty of thinking they might get handed another such gift.
The first half saw NYRB II mostly laboring in the final third - trying to do a little too much at times, and far too little at others - while Bethlehem Steel puzzlingly appeared content to stick to a sit-back-and-counter game plan that let their visitors see a great deal more of the ball than seemed warranted. The combination created a lackluster first half in which neither team seemed capable of summoning any fluidity or sustained attacking verve.
In the second half, the Steel did exercise greater urgency, and successfully pinned their guests to their own penalty area for extended periods. Even the 90 minute break between the 71st and 72nd minutes (there was a storm passing through the area) did little to quell Bethlehem's second-half vigor, though the intermission gave NYRB II the chance to find the energy necessary to better take advantage of their counter-attacking opportunities. The match came alive, finally, in those last 20 minutes or so with the teams trading chances: Derrick Etienne was denied by Steel 'keeper Samir Badr; Fred (yes, THAT Fred - the 36-year-old Brazilian who bounced between D.C. United and Philadelphia Union for a few years) hit the crossbar; Allen scuffed two good chances.
This was not a game in which to celebrate forwards. Allen took his first chance and NYRB II rallied behind that early lead to hold out for three points. But the team has its defense to thank for its third consecutive 1-0 win in USL (and its fifth consecutive road win). Even the goal itself was fashioned by a long ball out of the back: Gideon Baah fired long balls around the field for much of the hour or so he was on the pitch, but none came off quite as well as the fifth minute lofted pass that bounced through the Steel defense trailing Allen behind it.
The back line played well, with 'keeper Ryan Meara standing up to the shots that did get by his defense and chipping in with occasional forays off his line to clear up those passes that evaded his defenders. Center back Aaron Long caught the eye as the player who seemed most often to prevent the Steel from piling even more pressure on Meara's goal.
Though the finishing touch was missing in the final third, one suspects coach John Wolyniec will be pleased with the performance. The defense passed an exacting test, and the team has already shown it is capable of better days going forward. Fringe first-teamers (Baah, Sean Davis, and Alex Muyl) saw plenty of time on the pitch. The passing and movement necessary to breakdown a stubborn opponent was in evidence by the end of the game.
Woly will be aware that his reserves have scored just one goal per game in their last four matches, but they have also only conceded one goal in those 360 minutes of competitive play. The defense is increasingly the more impressive part of this team - and that probably suits the Red Bulls just fine, given the first team's continuing issues with injuries to defenders.
For NYRB II, the quest for greater attacking productivity continues on Thursday, June 9, against Harrisburg City Islanders at Red Bull Arena.