The schedule says the New York Red Bulls are playing in the 2017 Desert Diamond Cup, but in truth it is New York Red Bulls II. The first team left Arizona to prepare for CONCACAF Champions League after a friendly against NYCFC on February 15. The rest of RBNY's preseason belongs to NYRB II.
Reinforcing that point: John Wolyniec - the II team's head coach - is running the Red Bulls' show from the sidelines.
In charge of the Red Bulls today: #NYRBII head coach John Wolyniec.#NYvSKC #RBNY pic.twitter.com/CVQeT82qe9— NYRB II (@NYRBII) February 18, 2017
He was gently encouraging of his players after watching them lose 3-0 to a mostly first-string Sporting Kansas City lineup, telling NewYorkRedBulls.com:
I thought for a long time our guys played really well and held the game together.
It was a generous assessment for a team that was over-matched on paper and on the pitch. The Red Bulls spent most of the game chasing the ball, even when SKC swapped out its entire lineup for a second string around the hour mark. What few scoring chances NYRB II created were fleeting and ineffectual, while Kansas City enjoyed frequent sight of goal.
In the 31st minute, Dom Dwyer opened the scoring with a penalty. He won the spot kick himself, exploiting what seemed to be lack of understanding between still-getting-to-know-each-other center back Hassan Ndam and 'keeper Rafa Diaz. With hindsight, Diaz was perhaps a little slow to recognize Dwyer would outrun Ndam, and the 'keeper left his line late and in too much of a hurry. A collision with Dwyer brought the referee's whistle and a PK.
The other two goals came after KC's first-choice players had left the field. RBNY rookie 'keeper Evan Louro subbed in for Diaz at half-time, and he too will watch the game tape for lessons to be learned from the goals he gave up. In the 82nd minute, after a prolonged period of pressure that yielded two corners, a shot off the post and a declined penalty, Kansas City surged forward again on the break - Cameron Porter seemed to have received the ball to wide and close to the byline for a scoring chance, but he lasered a shot through the narrow space available to net KC's second. In the 87th minute, a sliced clearance came down awkwardly close to goal; with eyes on the ball, Louro was jostled out of position for a clean catch, and was maybe too certain he'd been fouled to challenge as Daniel Salloi headed the rebound home.
On KC's side of the ball, beyond the usual suspects, OaM was advised by our friends at The Blue Testament that Latif Blessing was exciting his new team's fans. We saw why against RBNY: Blessing is quick and confident and looks a constant threat with the ball at his feet.
For RBNY, the team that started the game included seven players who were regulars for NYRB II last season (Diaz being the regular back-up to Ryan Meara):
STARTING XI SKC: Diaz; O'Toole, Schmoll, Ndam, Kutler; Basuljevic, Bezecourt, Najem, Valot; Lewis, Allen#NYvSKC #RBNY— NYRB II (@NYRBII) February 18, 2017
None of the newcomers looked out of place, but clearly the sum of these parts was not equal to either of the preseasoning lineups SKC put on the field. As would be expected, as Wolyniec withdrew the more players with more experience of the RBNY system and pro-level soccer, the team struggled a little more.
This was a learning experience for a makeshift roster of players who share one common ambition: to be playing at a level higher than NYRB II in the not-too-distant future. And Wolyniec's job is more to identify how to get the best out of the players he is given that to build a team to win another USL Championship. Expect more results like this for NYRB II in Desert Diamond Cup, but also expect the experience to pay dividends toward the team's 2017 season in USL.
Three thoughts from the game:
1. Not a lot of time for the trialists
RBNY's Desert Diamond Cup roster includes eight trialists. Of those eight, four saw the field against SKC: Duane Muckette, David Abidor, Bradley Nestor, and Lucas Batista. And only Muckette saw really significant time - he got the whole second half, playing in central midfield alongside Arun Basuljevic while David Najem dropped back to defense.
In one half, it was possible to discern that Muckette has a good eye for a pass, finds space well in midfield, and also gave the impression that he was spending a lot of time thinking about his positioning. The latter is to expected of any player new to a team or system, and it is the challenge for all trialists: show well enough in the right context to win a contract.
John Wolyniec admitted as much to NewYorkRedBulls.com:
Obviously we don’t have a lot of time to work these guys in and get them up to speed on all the team tactics, but they’re just going to have to show an understanding of at least certain tactics that we ask them to apply and show the willingness to put the work in. We demand a lot physically of all of our players and that part needs to be shown.
And then how well they can fit in and play as a group and stay in tune with the group because when we’re being aggressive against the ball, we can’t have guys that are losing focus or not quite staying up to speed. They just have to show that they can be a part of the group for the full 90 minutes.
Impossible to show you can be "part of the group for the full 90 minutes" if only the lucky one is getting 45. There are a couple more games to play, and NYRB II does need a few more players on its roster one would think - so maybe the trialists will get more time over the next few days.
For now, clearly the trialists are not RBNY's priority with regard to which players get the most time to work on fitness and chemistry for the season ahead.
2. Is Brandon Allen the (II team) captain now?
If there was a big surprise in the Desert Diamond Cup squad, it was that Brandon Allen was in it. He is one of only three specialist forwards currently on RBNY's MLS roster, and arguably the only player who is really experienced at trying to mimic Bradley Wright-Phillips' role for the first team (since he has spent a season playing a similar role for NYRB II). He had also got regular minutes in preseason to date, seemingly favored as an option when BWP was not available.
But Brandon Allen is in Arizona for DDC while the first team is in Harrison for CCL. And he got the captain's armband for RBNY against SKC. A hint perhaps that Allen is due another season of substantial minutes in USL, with a leadership role to boot?
3. Zeiko Lewis as the second man up front
As is to be expected, NYRB II mimicked the first team's preferred tactical plan, playing a 4-2-2-2 against SKC. In this set-up, RBNY's top draft pick of 2017, Zeiko Lewis, played the second-striker role. He was perhaps a little hesitant to take his shot, but he is a player adjusting to many things at the moment. Still, it is encouraging for fans planning to watch the II team if the great entertainer of the 2017 SuperDraft is going to be put in a position to entertain for the reserves.