The New York Red Bulls II are stuttering in USL. Back-to-back losses have proven the team is not invincible, and that John Wolyniec might not quite be able to deliver a result from any random selection of players. But the reserve Red Bulls are still second in the Eastern Conference, and second in USL overall. They trail Louisville City by one point in the standings with a game in hand. This match against Harrisburg is a chance to pull level with (or even pass) the USL's leading team; at least until Friday, when Louisville is next in action.
From the narrow perspective of this year's USL, this game comes at an awkward time for NYRB II. The first team opens its CONCACAF Champions League campaign tomorrow, and it has already been stated that at least two regular II-teamers will be stepping up to play for the senior side.
So we also know Bilyeu will be playing for the II team.
It would appear Ryan Meara is also likely to be absent from NYRB II since he's penciled in as Luis Robles' back-up for the CCL game. And neither Adams nor Etienne count as a loan from the USL squad to the CCL roster: they are both on MLS contracts. RBNY could promote a few true reserves (e.g. Dan Metzger, Speedy Williams, Junior Flemmings, Aaron Long) if it wanted to, following the example of at least one other MLS team in CCL.
But it probably won't. Not yet, anyway.
Nonetheless, NYRB II could be asked to avoid its third consecutive loss with something of a makeshift lineup. Recent recruits Florian Valor and Vincent Bezecourt have shown well in USL to date. Zoumana Simpara looks increasingly ready for more time. The team does have a few under-used options who appear ready for greater opportunity.
And, of course, the point of the reserve team is to develop players for the senior side. As such, this week will be a net positive for NYRB II if players who have come through its ranks (Adams, Etienne; to a lesser extent, Abang and Meara) contribute significantly to a win for RBNY in CCL. The II team could lose 10-0 in Harrisburg and it wouldn't make any difference. This week's major test of the Red Bulls' reserves is in CONCACAF Champions League (in the sense that we may see how some of the emerging players look against senior players from other top-flight teams in the region), not USL.
Harrisburg may be well positioned to take advantage of the necessary reshuffling of the NYRB II lineup (in addition to those missing due to CCL, Stefano Bonomo is suspended). The City Islanders have recently broken out of a nine-game winless slump, winning of two of their last three matches. They are three games unbeaten thanks to a newfound defensive solidity: the team has conceded just two goals in those three outings, which is an improvement on the 37 conceded over the preceding 19 league matches.
The team's leading scorer is still Aaron Wheeler, with five goals in 13 appearances, but its most recent scoring has come from Brett Jankouskas, who has scored in his last two off-the-banch appearances (also Harrisburg's last two matches). Jose Barril (four goals and five assists in 21 appearances) and Paul Wilson (four goals and four assists in 21 appearances) remain the team's most reliably dangerous all-round attacking options. Cardel Benbow - once on the fringes of the Jamaica national team and still just 21 - has started to get more playing time recently. Former NYRB II players Shawn McLaws and James Thomas are regular starters for Harrisburg.
This is the second of three regular-season meetings between these teams this year. The first saw NYRB II win 1-0 at Red Bull Arena, thanks to a goal from Sean Davis (another player not expected to feature for the Red Bulls this time around). The third will played on September 7 at Red Bull Arena.
7:00 pm, Eastern; Tuesday, August 2, 2016
FNB Field, Harrisburg, PA
How to watch:
Live stream on the USL YouTube Channel
NYRB II: Kyle Reynish; Kevin O'Toole, Zach Carroll, Tim Schmoll, Konrad Plewa; Speedy Williams, Dan Metzger; Junior Flemmings, Vincent Bezecourt, Florian Valot; Brandon Allen.
HCI: Keasel Broome; James Thomas, Liam Doyle, Dante Leverock, Shawn McLaws; Cardel Benbow, Bobby Warshaw, Mouhamed Dabo, Jose Barril; Paul Wilson, Brett Jankouskas.
Predicted Score: 1-1 - HCI has learned how to defend, and the free-scoring Red Bulls haven't had a clean sheet in their last five games. Honors even.