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2017 USL Preview: New York Red Bulls II

A look ahead to the defending champions’ third USL season.

MLS: New England Revolution vs New York Red Bulls Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Year Founded: 2014

Affiliation: New York Red Bulls

2016 record: 26-6-3, First Place, USL Shield Winners

2016 Playoffs: Defeated Swope Park Rangers 5-1 in the final to win USL Cup

Key Additions: Andrew Lombard, Ethan Kutler, Zeiko Lewis

Key Departures: Devon ‘Speedy’ Williams, Zach Carroll, Noah Powder, Aaron Long

Projected XI (4-2-2-2): Diaz; Najem, Schmoll, Abidor, Lombard; Metzger, Bezecourt; Lewis, Flemmings; Allen, Valot
- One note, this lineup assumes no more USL signings and minimal MLS loans, both of which are unlikely.

New York Red Bulls II is a vastly different team than the one that ran the table in the USL last year. Between the attacking majesty of Derrick Etienne, Brandon Allen, and Junior Flemmings, the baby bulls seemed unstoppable in attack. With Ryan Meara, Aaron Long, Konrad Plewa, and Zach Carroll anchoring the defense, they seemed impregnable on defense. Only two of those players will return to the team this year, barring an Etienne or Meara cameo. Turnover is the nature of the business, however, especially on a USL affiliate. Gone are team stalwarts ‘Speedy’ Williams, Konrad Plewa, and Zach Carroll. Aaron Long, Ryan Meara, and Derrick Etienne have all moved up and earned promotions within the organization. New York Red Bulls II is a fundamentally different team than last year.

The consistency of the team lies in the coach and the style. John Wolyniec will return for his third year in charge of NYRBII, assisted again by Ibrahim Sekagya. The team will be implementing the same high press style as in years past and doing so as effectively as anyone in America. This year, the team will probably role out a 4-2-2-2 rather than a 4-2-3-1, making the same transition the first team has been, so as to be in line with the latest RalfBall doctrine. Crafting chances should not be a problem for Red Bulls II, with proven creative outlets in Junior Flemmings, Vincent Bezecourt, and Florian Valot. Scoring them should not be an issue either, as leading goal scorer Brandon Allen returns and is assisted by academy hotshot Omir Fernandez. What remains to be seen is can the team defend. Almost all the pieces of last year’s defensive wall are gone. Andrew Lombard is young, unproven professionally, and undersized for a centerback. David Abidor is unfamiliar with the system. Tim Schmoll still looks clunky in center defense. It still remains to be seen if the fullbacks can dope with the demands of the new formation. Frankly, there is a huge question mark over the team’s backline.

Overall, look for New York Red Bulls II to be competitive but underwhelming compared to their white-hot form of last year. Hopefully, the new Montclair State crowd and the development of youngsters like Lombard and Flemmings can lead to a successful season.

Why you should watch NYRBII in 2017: The system. The system, the system, the system, the system. A properly executed Gegenpress creates really exciting soccer, no matter if the team wins or loses. It leads to fast paced, action packed, and wide open games.

A well-prepared and well-trained counter pressing team can create wonders on the soccer field. While John Wolyniec is no Jurgen Klopp or Ralf Rangnick, he may just be the best counter pressing coach in the United States.

Three players to watch:

Junior Flemmings- Though he was injured towards the end of last year’s championship run, Junior Flemmings played a key attacking role for NYRBII throughout the year. It took Junior a little while to heat up upon coming to New York, but he managed ended the year as the team’s second highest scorer. With a full season already under his belt, it should be fun to watch what he can produce in 2017.

Tim Schmoll- The Harvard graduate and midfielder turned centerback had an up and down first year with New York Red Bulls II. Schmoll was the third centerback behind Carroll and Long last year, and when he was given a chance to play he looked fine at times and awkward, gangly, and out of place at others. There is no question why the New York Red Bulls are giving Schmoll the time to develop, though. Any team in the world would love a 6’6” centerback with a soccer brain, soft feet, and the ability to play it out of the back. If Schmoll can put it all together this year, it is worth getting very excited over.

Andrew Lombard- As the second youngest academy signee to New York Red Bulls II, Andrew Lombard represents the direction the team wants to go in. The Montclair native has struggled at times over the last two years as he has been pelted in defense on lackluster college teams. While questions remain over his position, size, and whether he can translate his game to the pro level, his defensive talent is undeniable. The Red Bulls’ organization is certainly rooting for him to succeed as he would make a great poster boy for the development pathway.

The 2017 season will be a success if… the players can come together, adapt to the new formation, and find the same rhythm as last year. Though initial showings of some of the new players are promising, there are just too many question marks around whether Abidor, Scarlett, and Kutler can replace the likes of Carroll, Long, and Powder. For NYRBII to succeed the organization is going to have to have done their homework and brought in sufficient replacements to the strong players they have lost.

Read More: Watch out for more to come, as this year’s New York Red Bulls II coverage will be ramped up as the season nears. Look for more articles to come from the whole Once a Metro crew, including possibly a new face or two.