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NYRB II Preview: Harrisburg comes to Harrison

The Harrisburg City Islanders will play a NYRB II side that might be looking ahead to US Open Cup.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls can sometimes be a little cagey about plans to loan first-teamers down to the II team. Not this week: on Tuesday, Jesse Marsch told BigAppleSoccer.com what to expect for the NYRB II lineup aganst Harrisburg City Islanders; on Wednesday, the club announced it was sending Gonzalo Veron and Shaun Wright-Phillips to the reserves.

Per Marsch's comments to BAS, we should also expect to see Gideon Baah, Alex Muyl, and Sean Davis (who all started NYRB II's last game, against Bethlehem Steel) on Thursday night at Red Bull Arena.

The RBNY head coach would only concede "potential" for young forward Anatole Abang to see time on the field.

That might be interpreted as further evidence of Abang's apparent tumble down RBNY's depth chart, but it should be noted he has recently returned from international duty that took him to France and Mauritania. And it is also possible Marsch has an eye on the longer-term needs of Gonzalo Veron, who it is hoped will eventually force his way back into the MLS starting lineup alongside Bradley Wright-Phillips. To that end, it might simply be that the RBNY head coach sees Brandon Allen or Junior Flemmings as a better facsimile of BWP's game than Abang.

In short, NYRB II's match against Harrisburg City Islanders is to be used to prep for US Open Cup. That competition kicks off for RBNY on June 15 with a trip to USL's reigning champs, Rochester Rhinos. The decision to stack the reserves with first team faces (albeit faces that have not featured often in MLS so far this season) would appear to be driven by the proximity of USOC, and the fact that there is league game to be played just four days after the team gets back from Rochester.

So the longer-term role of the reserves in developing young professionals for the first team will have to wait a week as RBNY focuses on the challenge of being competitive on three fronts this summer: MLS, CONCACAF Champions League (which should start up in August), and USOC. For the Red Bulls, this game looks like it wil mostly be about identifying who is ready to go win a game against the Rhinos, not who might be a productive member of the 2017 MLS squad.

We'll have to wait to see who plays in Rochester to learn whether this game at Red Bull Arena is an audition for places in the starting lineup or a rehearsal for those already penciled in, but it seems probable the more senior faces who appear against Harrisburg will be asked to help win RBNY a place in the next round of USOC.

The City Islanders (who also have USOC on June 15, incidentally) have had an uneven start to their USL season: seven losses in their first 12 games, including last week's 3-2 loss to Wilmington Hammerheads. The team's difficulty is relatively easy to diagnose: defense. Harrisburg has conceded 22 goals in USL, more than any other team in the league to date.

This match against NYRB II is the third in a four-game road trip that has thus far yielded two losses. The City Islanders have only been held scoreless once in the league this season, but they have a regrettable tendency to allow more goals than then score.

The squad includes two former NYRB II players: James Thomas and Shawn McLaws have settled in as regular starters in Harrisburg after spending 2015 in Harrison. Former FC Dallas midfielder Bobby Warshaw hasn't played in MLS since 2013, but will arguably be the most recognizable name on the HCI team sheet to those who follow North America's top division. Ex-Philadelphia Union forward Aaron Wheeler is suspended for the trip to Red Bull Arena.

The standout in the Harrisburg squad this season - at least in terms of attacking productivity - has been Paul Wilson, who is the team's leading scorer (four goals in 12 appearances) and is among its leadig assist-men (three so far this season). The 22-year-old midfielder is part of a Jamaican contingent that also includes Craig Foster and Cardel Benbow.

Foster and Wilson were part of the same Jamaica U-20 cohort as NYRB II's Devon Williams and RBNY's Kemar Lawrence. Benbow went to the 2011 U-17 World Cup alongside Portland Timbers' Alvas Powell. Benbow was perhaps the most highly rated of HCI's Jamaicans a couple of years ago - he won his first (and only, to date) senior Jamaica cap in 2014 - but his compatriots (Foster has three goals so far this season) are outshining him at the moment.

Midfielder Jose Barril - once a Real Madrid prospect - led Harrisburg in assists last season and is leading the team again this year (four, so far).

HCI doesn't have much trouble scoring - 18 in 12 games is currently the second-highest goals scored total in the Eastern Conference. But the City Islanders' record speaks for itself: they have not been consistently better at scoring than their opponents. They have lost more games (seven) than they have won (four). And three of those four wins were at home; two were against Orlando City B. NYRB II is not Orlando City B. Harrison is not Harrisburg. The omens are not good for HCI.

But teams often slip up if their focus is not on the game in front of them. Every NYRB II player will be aware of the proximity of the USOC match in Rochester; those not already on MLS contracts will be aware that RBNY can loan players up from USL for Open Cup.

The reserve Bulls are favorites to win this game, but their free-scoring opponents may present an unexpected challenge if they can get on the score sheet early and test the mettle of a team that will likely mostly be concentrating on staying fit and available for selection for USOC.

When: 7:00 pm; Thursday, June 9, 2016

Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey

How to watch:

Predicted NYRB II starting lineup:

Predicted Most recent Harrisburg City Islanders starting lineup:

Expect to see Wilson, Foster, and Barril in attacking roles. Warshaw should anchor the midfield. Ex-NYRB II player McLaws and Thomas will likely also feature. Barbados national team 'keeper Keasel Broome started for HCI last time they played.

Predicted score: NYRB II 4-2 Harrisburg; goals from Veron, Abang (off the bench), and Allen.