The New York Red Bulls II took the opportunity of their final home game of the USL regular season to claim another couple of USL records. Four goals took the team's season total to 59: the most goals by any team in the USL regular season (the records only go back to 2011, so there is fairly frequent turnover at the moment). And the 4-0 win over FC Montreal was NYRB II's 20th of the regular season: another USL record.
The USL's 2016 regular season champion also extended its league points record to 66 with the win, and it still has one match to play before it shifts its focus to the playoffs.
It has been an exceptional season for NYRB II, and they have the records to prove it.
The Eastern Conference standings show FC Montreal languishing in last place, so no great surprise the IMFC B team got thrashed by Backup Bulls. But Montreal has found some good form recently, winning five of its last seven and scoring 18 in a heady run of success prior to this game. The free-scoring (mostly) Canadians did have their chances, but were too often restricted to pot-shots on goal from afar. And when they did get close to the target, they couldn't get past NYRB II 'keeper Kyle Reynish.
Reynish was surprise starter, since RBNY plays in MLS on Sunday, September 18, and he is the usual back-up to Luis Robles for the first team. But USL rules governing eligibility for playoff rosters perhaps had a something to do with Reynish's presence in the II team this week.
Prior to his start against FC Montreal, Reynish (on loan to NYRB II from RBNY in MLS) only had four appearances for the II team this season. Now he is available to help the reserves in the playoffs, if necessary.
He played very well, keeping Montreal at bay on the occasions the visitors got past the Red Bulls' back line. That back line contained the other surprise start: Tyler Adams played 45 minutes at right back, rather than his usual defensive midfield position. Montreal did explore the possibility that Adams was a weak link at the back, but he stood up well to the test. Head coach John Wolyniec said the rare outing at full back for Adams was essentially an opportunistic decision:
Tyler played on Thursday night so he wasn't going to be a full participant in this game, so fatigue wise we were cautious. And we just figured that Tyler has played some outside back in the past so we just wanted to look at it. Since he was only playing 45 minutes, this was a game to look at.
Absent Aaron Long (recently loaned up to RBNY, and possibly in the 18 for the Toronto game), Tim Schmoll and Zach Carroll held down the center of defense. Academy prospect Kevin O'Toole has become a regular for NYRB II, and took the start at left back. Further tweaks - Noah Powder at half-time for Adams, and Konrad Plewa around the hour mark for Schmoll - did not significantly disrupt the team's defensive solidity.
In midfield, David Najem got another opportunity alongside Dan Metzger. Regular d-mid, Speedy Williams, is injured, but expected back "sooner than later" - per Wolyniec. The Metzger-Najem pairing has been solid in the interim.
Up front, however, is where NYRB II really shines this season. This was one of the attacking quartet's most fluid performances. The front-men were nominally lined up with Brandon Allen as lone forward, Florian Valot on the left, Derrick Etienne in the middle, and Vincent Bezecourt on the right. But they switched positions frequently, and caused Montreal's defense problems from the first minute (when Etienne almost scored) to the last (when substitute Stefano Bonomo bagged the team's fourth goal).
It was Allen, perhaps, who offered the most surprising performance. He is the team's top scorer and plays mostly as close to goal as the defense will let him get. But in this match he frequently dropped deep, letting Etienne or Bezecourt play ahead of him. That role in part explains his two assists in this game: he often had players closer to goal than himself, which hasn't tended to be his role for much of this season.
But he did not neglect his scoring responsibilities. After the team had seen several near-misses in the opening exchanges, Allen got NYRB II on the board in the 20th minute.
.@brandon10allen gets his 14th goal of the year for @NYRBII! #NYvMTL https://t.co/O0j1yOWF2o— USL (@USL) September 17, 2016
It was a goal characteristic of his approach to this game. Valot's excellent work to get a cross into the box looked entirely wasted: there was no one in the six-yard box to receive the pass. But just as this observer was cursing the absent Allen, he revealed himself: lurking outside the area for the second ball. That ball arrived, and Allen loosed a shot on goal to get the II team on its way.
NYRB II kept up a constant flow of chances throughout the game, but Montreal 'keeper Maxime Crepeau was having a day to show why he is a Canada youth and senior international. Crepeau kept his side in the game as long as he could, and would have been man of the match for his performance were it not for the unfortunate fact he still conceded four.
The II team opened the floodgates in the second half. Valot doubled his team's lead in the 54th minute.
Valot puts away the USL single season record 57th goal... that @detienne_10 ball though... pic.twitter.com/Hsu1xF1RWQ— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 18, 2016
Next, Etienne served a timely reminder of his own scoring ability.
Griezzy Etienne Jr. pic.twitter.com/ovZ6z4Z6Xa— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 18, 2016
Finally, with Valot and Bezecourt off the field, Allen showed he can cross the ball too - and Stefano Bonomo made amends for an earlier missed penalty with a confident volley past Crepeau.
By the time the fourth goal went in, Bonomo and Zoumana Simpara had entered the game, and the attack was still more than Montreal could handle.
This was a victory - as so many have been this season for NYRB II - for the team's system. The players are not mere interchangeable parts, they have their own talents and qualities, but they have collectively reached the end of the regular season with a finely tuned understanding of roles and responsibilities in a system that pus great emphasis on the unit over the individual. And it is that understanding that has given rise to the increasingly fluid and relentless attack that has driven the team through its current nine-game unbeaten streak. It has its off days - Rochester's defense last week was better at containing the threat than Montreal was this week - but they are few and far between, as three losses in 29 games suggests.
Wolyniec credits the streak in part to the mentality of the group of players he is working with:
It's a number of things, I'd say first that they are a good bunch of guys. They work really hard. We make them work really hard but they buy in and they're all with it. We're very deep, we have a lot of guys contributing and going places. It speaks to a lot of things like our academy, Jesse [Marsch], those guys, what we are doing day in and day out.
And though the goals scored catch the eye, the head coach is proud of his team's defensive work:
I mentioned to the guys about goals against and shutouts before the game because we are focused, especially lately. We've been giving other teams nothing and going after shutouts. The guys have been doing that very well and a number of wins have come from shutouts so it's been a focus of ours. We take a lot of pride in what we do but the main focus is to win.
NYRB II now has 16 shutouts for the regular season: one away from tying Rochester Rhino's USL record for single-season clean sheets.
Next up for the II team is the last game of the regular season, at Charleston Battery on September 24. And NYRB will have to wait until next week to find out which team it will play first in the playoffs: the race for eighth in the USL East is going down to the final round of the regular season.