For the second consecutive game, New York Red Bulls II scored five and finished the match at the top of the USL Eastern Conference standings. The team is flying: 10 goals and six points from its last two outings, bouncing back decisively from its first losing skid of the season.
As ever, NYRB II achieved this win with a different lineup from its last game. Justin Bilyeu and Anatole Abang were missing from the starting XI this time around, presumably required to contribute to the first team's upcoming schedule. Academy prospects Mason Deeds and Ryan Mingachos were also absent.
In their stead, John Wolyniec rotated in a fresh batch of Academy kids. Four players made their pro debuts in this match: Chris Gloster from the start; Kazu Shigenobu, Chris Mines and Omir Fernandez from the bench. And Noah Powder returned to the squad after a lengthy absence. All five of those players are still prospects, not professionals.
The core of the team remained intact: Ryan Meara in goal; Tim Schmoll, Zach Carroll and Aaron Long supporting debutant Gloster on the back line; the now-seasoned midfield pairing, Dan Metzger and Devon Williams; Florian Valot, Vincent Bezecourt, Junior Flemmings and Brandon Allen carried the attacking load.
It was a match dominated almost from start to finish by Flemmings, in perhaps his most eye-catching performance of the season to date.
Long one of the better attacking players on the II team, Flemmings looked the best player on the field against Orlando City B - itself not a bad team, with several emerging youth internationals in its lineup.
One of those OCSC B youth internationals is Conor Donovan, a 20-year-old defender with many caps for the US U-17 and U-20 teams. He had a game to forget, mostly thanks to Flemmings.
Orlando struggled to cope with NYRB II's pressing game, particularly early in the match, when 'keeper Mark Ridgers was seemed slow to react to the Red Bulls' forwards.
By the eighth minute of the game, the II team had a lead after Flemmings chased the ball back to Ridgers, forcing a hasty clearance. The Red Bulls seized on the 'keeper's awkward kick, surged back into the 18-yard box, and found Florian Valot in space on the left. The Frenchman's shot appeared to have beaten the 'keeper - but Donovan intercepted it...and knocked the ball into the net.
Flemmings remained a nuisance for the rest of the match. By the time he was substituted in the 89th minute of an emphatically-won game, he'd taken 10 shots. Only two of his shots were on target, but that was in part due to the player's eagerness to shoot from almost any position that offered him a clear sight of goal.
Donovan only lasted 35 minutes of the Flemmings show, thanks to the historic intervention of the Video Assistant Referee. The II-team's irrepressible forward got past the OCSC B back line, and Donovan's effort to slow the breakaway saw Flemmings hit the deck. Referee Ismail Elfath called a foul on the very edge of the penalty area, but VAR Allen Chapman invited his colleague to have another look; after a brief review of the replay, Elfath showed Donovan the red card.
Up a man, at home, with Flemmings a constant threat: it was a surprise the reserve Bulls didn't extend their lead before half-time. And a surprise that the score was still 1-0 to NYRB II after an hour's play.
Finally, in the 61st minute, the Red Bulls doubled their lead, thanks to a Brandon Allen penalty. Allen's 10th strike of the USL campaign made him the first player in II-team history (all one-and-three-quarter seasons of it) to score double-digit goals in a season.
The penalty was won by - who else?- Junior Flemmings - whose low cross into the six-yard box caught the hand of a defender sliding in to intercept.
Five minutes later, the game had the goal scored by a Jamaican it had been expecting, but not from the expected Jamaican. Speedy Williams, an often unheralded II-team player, found his way on to the highlight reel with his first goal of the season.
Three minutes after that, OCSC got one back. NYRB II presses just as high and hard as the first team, and is just as susceptible to the counter-attack.
If coach John Wolyniec was worried about letting Orlando back into the game, he had a funny way of showing it: Academy prospect Kazu Shigenobu was subbed in for the influential Vincent Bezecourt almost as soon as Michael Cox scored his goal.
At this point in the game, Woly had three Academy players on the field: pro-level debutants Chris Gloster and Shigenobu, and Noah Powder, who subbed in at half time for Aaron Long (destined for a flight to El Salvador to help RBNY in CONCACAF Champions League). By the end of the match, two more Academy players would have made their first appearances in professional soccer: Ben Mines got about three minutes in relief of Gloster, and Omir Fernandez had an eventful cameo after coming on in the 90th minute.
The last 10 minutes or so of the game saw another frenetic burst of activity. Orlando defender Kyle McFadden got a yellow for a foul the VAR thought might be worth a red (Elfath reviewed the foul he had called and opted for the caution rather than ejection) in the 82nd minute. Seven minutes later, another yellow card saw McFadden out of the match and Orlando down to nine men.
In between, Junior Flemmings got the goal his work deserved.
And to cap the rout, Flemmings' replacement - Zoumana Simpara - got the tap-in for NYRB II's fifth of the match, after Fernandez had used his very limited time on the field to fluster the OCSC B defense and fire a shot off the post.
Five goals, four debutants out of the academy, and what hindsight may reveal to be a coming-of-age performance from Junior Flemmings. It was a good day for John Wolyniec and his squad. They will now prepare for the arrival of Louisville City FC, their closest rival in the standings (level on points, but NYRB II has two games in hand).
And it was a good day for IFAB, USL, MLS and all those invested in the development of the VAR system. Its first ever deployment in a competitive game did impact the game - Orlando had two players sent off thanks to VAR interventions - but not in an inexcusable way.
Post-match, Wolyniec had the good grace to admit that feelings about VAR are inevitably guided by whether one's team got the rough or the smooth side of a decision.
It’s certainly not perfect but I think that it went well. If those decisions go against me, maybe I’m a little more against it, but overall I think it went pretty well and it didn’t affect the game.
Every remaining NYRB II home game of the season will feature VAR, and not every VAR decision is going to boost the home team as happened on this first occasion of its deployment. The referee is still calling it as seen. The only difference is we know when the referee gets to see it again, and maybe change the call.
So far, so good for the proposed future of soccer refereeing. And so far, so very good for NYRB II's 2016 USL season.