Call them the Baby Bulls. Call them the Back-up Bulls. Or the Red Bulls reserves. Or the II team. Or NYRB II, or RBNY II. Whatever you call them, be sure to also address the New York Red Bulls II as Champions.
With today's win @NYRBII are the 2016 #USL Regular Season Champions! pic.twitter.com/oyVpLfl2pu— USL (@USL) September 7, 2016
Thanks to a 4-1 win over Harrisburg City Islanders, NYRB II clinched the 2016 USL regular season title in perhaps the most NYRB-II-way possible. On the road, because they have been outstanding on the road (12-1-1 for the season, and they still have two away-days left) this year. On the road because they are a reserve team: this was supposed to be a home game but the first team needs a good playing surface and Red Bull Arena needed some time off to get the grass back its usual standard.
And, of course, with yet another shuffled lineup, because NYRB II does not play by the usual rules of settled teams and not tinkering with momentum.
STARTING XI vs @city_islanders: Reynish, Bilyeu, Schmoll, Carroll, Plewa, Williams, Adams, Bezecourt, Etienne Jr., Bonomo, Simpara#HARvNY— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 7, 2016
BENCH vs @city_islanders: Diaz, Long, Powder, Najem, Metzger, Valot, Allen#HARvNY— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 7, 2016
Regular captain and starting 'keeper Ryan Meara was not in the match-day squad; first-team back-up Kyle Reynish got one of the occasional starts he seems to get for NYRB II when there are CONCACAF Champions League matches looming.
Justin Bilyeu was in the team, fresh off another stint on RBNY's bench, but senior starting center back Aaron Long did not start. Nor did top-scorer Brandon Allen, or live-wire attacking midfielder Florian Valot.
And while it was great news that Konrad Plewa was picked for his first start since suffering a stroke at the end of July:
Konrad Plewa makes his first start since July 30 for #NYRBII.#PlewaStrong#HARvNY#REDTogether pic.twitter.com/4sXEkZNnxG— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 7, 2016
His start added to the sense that this team's priority is and always will be player development over winning trophies.
Well, there was that sense until this team went out and won a trophy, of course.
Guessing NYRB II's strongest lineup is one of the more futile exercises in US soccer. The team is deep, at least this year. So deep that when USMNT U-18's Tyler Adams took a hard knock in the first half, his replacement was Dan Metzger - a youth international for USA at the U-18, U-20 and U-23 levels.
Even NYRB II's man of the match, Vincent Bezecourt, is a replacement of sorts. Junior Flemmings had been keeping Bezecourt out of the starting lineup, but the Jamaican's season has been ended by injury. Bezecourt opened the scoring for the Back-up Bulls in the 23rd minute.
.@bonomo_93 feeds @Vince_Bzcrt for the opening goal, his third of the season!#HARvNY#REDTogether#NYRBII pic.twitter.com/NO6svdTfn4— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 7, 2016
The first half was relatively even, with both teams having opportunities. Just before Bezecourt scored, HCI had a penalty appeal declined. But home team Harrisburg closed out the opening 45 looking like the stronger team, and started the second half in the same vein.
In just the second minute of the second half, Cardel Benbow slammed home an equalizer. Plenty of time left, but it appeared the home team had the momentum and NYRB II might have to wait another game to claim the USL regular season title. Both the II team's starting central midfielders were off the field: Speedy Williams took a knock shortly before half time, and David Najem came out as his replacement for the second half.
But there is depth in this team. Plewa's first start since his stroke was cut short after 58 minutes. Noah Powder, the Academy prospect many hope is due a pro contract from RBNY (or NYRB II) in the off-season, entered the game - and changed it almost instantly.
Noah Powder finishes his first professional goal, assisted by @Vince_Bzcrt!#HARvNY#REDTogether#NYRBII pic.twitter.com/aIphQ0yimi— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 7, 2016
Two minutes after Powder's first goal at the pro level restored his team's lead, head coach John Wolyniec seemed to ease up on HCI. Derrick Etienne had been looking gradually more dominant as the match went on, but Woly swapped him out in the 64th minute. Respite for Harrisburg? No. Etienne's replacement, Florian Valot had an assist to his name within 10 minutes - and Bezecourt had his second.
It's @Vince_Bzcrt again! Bezecourt gets the brace, Florian Valot with the assist#HARvNY#REDTogether#NYRBII pic.twitter.com/2JGnhJnU7b— NYRB II (@NYRBII) September 7, 2016
That goal came just after another Woly adjustment that seemed to take the pressure off Harrisburg: he brought Long off the bench for Zoumana Simpara. The Malian youth international has been a lively sub for NYRB II in sporadic appearances this season, but he got his first start for the team in this match. Playing mostly wide right, Simpara might perhaps have benefited from a more central position. He made some good runs down the flank, but he also plays well with his back to goal - as he demonstrated with his contribution to Powder's first goal, when he tucked inside to give the full back the overlap.
Simpara's exit, however, allowed Powder a little further up the field - and it didn't take long for the Trinidad and Tobago youth international to validate his coach's tactical adjustment.
.@nyrbii brought the Fire "Powder" today #USL #HARvNY https://t.co/D7Bmzs5m5y— USL (@USL) September 7, 2016
It was the exclamation mark the team's league-title-clinching win deserved.
The regular season championship was technically clinched on tiebreakers: the II team has 62 points and 19 wins; Louisville City FC is the only team in the league that can still get to 62 points, and it cannot get past 18 wins.
NYRB II claims its first trophy in just its second season. Though that is a far shorter wait than RBNY inflicted on its fans, the II team has paid special tribute to the club by ensuring that its first piece of silverware echoes that of the first team: it is, of course, a shield.
We believe this is yours @NYRBII #USL pic.twitter.com/y8fJgP1oKd— USL (@USL) September 7, 2016