On the day it was revealed Junior Flemmings' performances in USL have not yet turned the head of his national team coach (Jamaica called up four players who are regulars in USL, but none from New York Red Bulls II), the young Jamaican consoled himself with his seventh league goal of the season: the match-winner for NYRB II against Toronto FC II.
It could and should have been a more comfortable victory than 1-0. Flemmings himself missed two of the best chances he'll get all season, Speedy Williams saw a long shot on an empty net cleared off the line at the game's end; the reserve Red Bulls had little difficulty creating opportunities, but struggled to convert them.
For the most part, the struggle seemed to be internal: with their own composure in front of goal and with weighting passes on TFC II's artificial turf. The team never did quite get the hang of the playing surface, but it had control of the match from the start. Flemmings fired wide from close range in the opening seconds, setting the tone for the game.
For the 53 minutes he played, Derrick Etienne was arguably NYRB II's standout player. He created that opening chance for Flemmings, and repeatedly tormented TFC II's back line. Coach John Wolyniec put out one of his stronger lineups of the season, starting not just Etienne but also Justin Bilyeu and Tyler Adams - all players who are currently lurking on the fringes of RBNY's first team squad.
Academy player Noah Powder got a full 90 minutes at right back, joining the attack to good effect on several occasions. There were more academy players on the bench: Ben Mines got about 10 minutes up front in relief of Flemmings; Kevin O'Toole had a little time at the end when Florian Valot's game was ended by a knock.
It was also encouraging to see Zoumana Simpara get a longer-than-usual run off the bench. The 18-year-old's reward for a recent string of eye-catching cameos was to play almost the entire second half, as Etienne's replacement. But the standout substitute was Stefano Bonomo, finally returned from suspension and permitted about 20 minutes up front in place of Brandon Allen.
Where Allen had seemed a little isolated, Bonomo was a tenacious focal point for the attack, chasing down everything and neatly linking play when he did get on the ball.
TFC II had its best passage of play at the back end of the first half, but spent most of the second 45 pinned by the NYRB II press. Flemmings got his goal by simply pouncing on a loose ball after a corner wasn't cleared. The Red Bulls had prettier moments in the match, and the win was just reward for those efforts.
Three points improves NYRB II's record to 53 points from 24 games played in USL. The playoffs are already a certainty. The team is now chasing the regular season title. Next up is FC Cincinnati, one of the few clubs that could yet catch NYRB II. The match will played at Red Bull Arena on August 28, kicking off after the first team's MLS game against New England Revolution.