The New York Red Bulls finished their already-over (it ended when RBNY's season started with CONCACAF Champions League on February 22) preseason with a 2-0 loss to New England Revolution in Desert Diamond Cup.
The squad representing RBNY in Arizona is the one from which this year's NYRB II roster is expected to emerge, and it was perhaps predictably beaten by a close-to-full-strength Revs.
#NERevs lineup vs. RBNY: Cropper; D. Smith, Angoua, Delamea, Farrell; Fagundez, Caldwell, Agudelo, Rowe; Nguyen, Kamara— NewEnglandRevolution (@NERevolution) February 25, 2017
Despite the mismatch on paper, the II-teamers held their own against the Revs for long periods of the game. New England would doubtless argue it would have put the game away much earlier, if it had been a little closer to full fitness and sharpness; NYRB II could argue it too has better performances ahead of it - the Red Bulls' reserves aren't much of a team right now, more just a group of players with broadly shared objectives.
As it played out, the II team didn't get a lot going up front. It's chances were mostly of the "half" variety. When called on, mid-way through the second half, Revs' 'keeper Cody Cropper thwarted Zeiko Lewis and Omir Fernandez in quick succession.
That was arguably NYRB II's best chance, and by the time it arrived New England had already got itself on the board. In fairness to a Red Bulls' defense under pressure, it took the Revs until the 52nd minute to break through - and it took one of the more exquisite passes of the preseason to conclusively break the II-team's back line.
There isn't a lot any team can do when it is cut open by a pass of perfect weight: too quick for the defense, too slow for the 'keeper to fully commit to cutting it out. Diego Fagundez should treasure that one.
Before and after that moment, the Revs should have had more goals, but Kei Kamara and Lee Nguyen seemed to be locked in a competition to see who could conjure the worst miss.
Nguyen missed a couple of sitters himself - shots he'd be expected to at least get on target, that skewed off target - but he also scored his team's second goal, in the 89th minute.
Kamara won the worst-miss contest.
NYRB II's loss was not undeserved, nor unforgivable.
Three thoughts on the second team's performance in the last game of the first team's 2017 preseason:
1. NYRB II seems to be taking shape
As noted by friend of OaM, @JuanMapu, with a couple of likely additions, the New York Red Bulls starting lineup in this game might have tipped John Wolyniec's hand with regard to his thinking about the composition of his II-team roster for the 2017 USL season.
@Once_A_Metro that is the team plus Allen, Flemings— Señor Soccer (@JuanMapu) February 25, 2017
Maybe Brandon Allen gets more time with USL than he's expecting this season; hopefully, Junior Flemmings returns from injury soon enough and gets back to the form that had him looking like a first-team prospect last year; Douglas Martinez is expected to show up once Honduras is finished with the CONCACAF U-20 Championship; Noah Powder might also be destined for a contract with NYRB II.
Also, Woly's bench for this game contained a few players one might expect to see featuring regularly during the USL season:
David Najem and Kevin O'Toole are proven contributors at the USL level. Academy prospect Kazu Shigenobu and trialist David Abidor came into the game at half-time.
Throw in Evan Louro and there's a player pool of 20 players represented by the starting lineup, the half-time subs, and the other names mentioned above. That seems about right.
NYRB II still has some time to go before it's season gets started, and all sorts of variables (e.g. injuries, first-team objectives, emerging international commitments, a player simply not wanting to join the team) can affect the roster, but it does seem like the outline of the 2017 II team has taken shape over the course of the last three games.
The two 'keepers on this trip - Rafa Diaz and Evan Louro - are both on MLS contracts, but seem clearly destined for the USL squad. They will likely be supplemented by the occasional Academy 'keeper if one or the other is injured or summoned to the first team.
On the back line, Tim Schmoll is one of only five players currently signed to USL contracts and should be the senior center back in the squad. He looks likely to spend a lot of time nurturing 18-year-old Hassan Ndam, who is MLS-contracted but perhaps not MLS ready just yet. A team needs more CBs than that, and it appears trialist David Abidor is one option, with fellow trialist Lucas Batista perhaps able to fill in while also offering competition for starts at the full back positions.
Draft pick Ethan Kutler has been pretty much exclusively used as a right back, and if he will settle for a contract with the II team, that project could continue throughout the year. If Noah Powder sign with NYRB II, he is another versatile full back option, though he may yet prove to be more useful in midfield. David Najem and whatever time Kevin O'Toole can give the team before he moves on to college are the other obvious potential contributors at the outside back positions.
In the center midfield spots, trialist Duane Muckette has started every game Wolyniec has coached in pre-season. The long look implies he's doing something right. He and Najem could be penciled in to partner Homegrown rookie Arun Basuljevic, who the team seems to regard as a d-mid for now.
Up front, NYRB II already has Florian Valot, Vincent Bezecourt and Junior Flemmings under contract. Throw in the anticipated arrival of Honduran youth international Douglas Martinez - and that's a unit that will compete with each other for time, assuming they can't all be squeezed on to the field at once.
It also seems likely we'll see a little more of Academy prospect Omir Fernandez up front, and maybe MLS-contracted Brandon Allen needs more time to find his pro-level game. Finally, draft pick Zeiko Lewis presents an interesting case for RBNY: he already has a contract with MLS, and the Red Bulls knew that when they drafted him, but he doesn't look nearly ready to challenge for a place in the first team. He's just got through his first pro preseason, so there is no need to worry about his ability - he's starting out, not finished. He could be signed to the first team squad, but pretty much take the year to develop in USL, or maybe he has other ideas.
Midfielder Kazu Shigenobu seems another Academy favorite at the moment, and should perhaps also be regarded as part of the squad.
Allow for the fact that NYRB II almost certainly has its eyes on players who weren't in this camp and are not on the rumor mill's radar, but those 20 players could be penciled in as the basic II team squad for now. Plus whatever surprises the Academy produces, and doubtless a steady stream of visitors from the first team as senior players seek to shake off injuries or prove themselves to Jesse Marsch.
2. Less good news for some of the other players in camp
No one should be written off: this is pure speculation. Maybe Wolyniec left certain players on the bench for this game because he already likes what he has seen and had no need to see it again. Certainly, there is no reason to read anything into the lack of time for 'keeper Evan Louro (who played in this squad's last outing) or Academy prospect Kevin O'Toole (who already has a USL Championship title on his list of career achievements, and he is not yet a pro player).
But Wolyniec did not empty his bench for this game, and it will be surprising to learn that unused substitutes Brett Nason, Jake Freeman, and Zach Ryan watched the match from the bench because they have done enough to win favor already. Ryan is an Academy prospect, so he will have future opportunities. It's less clear what the future holds for Nason, Freeman, and even Bradley Nestor - who only got on the field for the last minute.
Lucas Terci and Andrew Tinari got some time, but the fact they weren't on the field from the start, or at least from the start of the second half, suggests they're a little behind those players got more time in the race to win a place on John Wolyniec's 2017 roster.
3. Diego Fagundez's pass
One more time, because the weight and trajectory of this pass was perfect.