New York Red Bulls II closed out the 2016 USL regular season in the manner to which the team has become accustomed: with a win. The 2-1 road victory over Charleston Battery avenged the 3-2 home defeat inflicted upon NYRB II by the same opponent earlier in the season.
It also extended the II team's single-season league records for points (69), wins (21) and goals scored (61). Brandon Allen added a goal to his season's tally, falling one short of Sean Okoli's Golden Boot winning total of 16 - but Allen's 15 goals are a NYRB II club record for single-season league goals, and also make him the II team's all-time top scorer ("all time" is two seasons, so that is a record unlikely to stand for very long).
And the win saw NYRB II accelerate into the post-season on a 10-game unbeaten streak (of which nine have been victories).
The starting lineup was strong by the team's recent standards, though it also revealed the II team's priority: it is a development squad, first and foremost.
Starting XI vs @Chas_Battery: Meara, Bilyeu, Schmoll, Carroll, Adams, Metzger, Najem, Bezecourt, Etienne, Allen, Bonomo#CHSvNY— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 24, 2016
John Wolyniec persisted with Tyler Adams at right back, despite having three full backs on the bench.
Bench vs @Chas_Battery: Diaz, O'Toole, Plewa, Powder, Valot, Simpara#CHSvNY— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 24, 2016
This is a recent innovation for NYRB II, albeit one that harks back to Adams' role in his Academy days. First team head coach Jesse Marsch has mentioned the central midfielder as an option at full back, and over the last couple of weeks, the second team has offered the stage for Adams to reacquaint himself with the position.
Last week, against FC Montreal, he seemed occasionally to drift back toward his usual role in the middle of the field, following the game with the instincts of the d-mid he has become over the last few years. But at 17, nothing is all that far in the past for Adams, and many of the small errors of thought that betrayed his regular position on the field were eliminated against Charleston. He played close to an hour before subbing out for Konrad Plewa (the team's starting right back for much of the season) in the 55th minute.
For RBNY fans trying to forecast the squad that will travel to Guatemala for the first team's mid-week CONCACAF Champions League fixture on September 27, it may be significant that left back Justin Bilyeu and central midfielder Dan Metzger were removed from the game at half-time. Vincent Bezecourt joined Adams on the bench in the 58th minute.
The half-time substitutions (Kevin O'Toole and Noah Powder - both still amateur prospects) seemed to hand momentum to Charleston, who came out for the second half chasing a goal. The Battery had proved a challenging opponent in the first half, falling behind to another moment of set-piece magic from Bezecourt in the 38th minute.
.@Vince_Bzcrt with a beautiful free kickl! @NYRBII takes the lead vs @Chas_Battery. #CHSvNY pic.twitter.com/XxNpP8ircl— USL (@USL) September 25, 2016
Five minutes into the second half, Charleston leveled the score through Dante Marini, abetted by a bit of panic in the II team's back line. By the hour mark, NYRB had four teenagers on the field: Powder, O'Toole, Derrick Etienne, and Zoumana Simpara (who joined the game in the first half for Stefano Bonomo, now a potential injury concern for the playoffs).
It was the most experienced of those teenagers - Etienne - who won the match. With characteristic flair and confidence, he followed a long pass into the box and danced his markers around until a scuffle for possession saw him toppled.
74: Penalty! Fancy footwork in the box from @detienne_10 earns a foul and gives NYRB II a PK!— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 25, 2016
It seemed a soft call, but he was clearly shoved and a shove is a foul. Allen converted the penalty in the 74th minute, and the II team closed out a 2-1 win.
Having dominated the Eastern Conference in record-setting style, NYRB II now heads to the playoffs. The team has already learned it may suffer the indignity of being the first USL regular-season champion to not host the USL Cup final - but first it needs to qualify for that final. The II team's playoffs start on October 2 at Red Bull Arena against Orlando City B.
It's official, @OrlandoCityB has clinched the final #USLPlayoffs spot in the Eastern Conference! pic.twitter.com/v9HxfNT0AC— USL (@USL) September 25, 2016