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Shorthanded New York Red Bulls II tie Pittsburgh Riverhounds, 3-3, in thrilling season opener

Despite a lack of depth in the squad, NYRB II manage to earn a point in its USL 2017 season opener.

MLS: Playoffs-Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

New York Red Bulls II opened the 2017 USL season with a 3-3 draw, tying Pittsburgh Riverhounds on the road in a shootout that saw four goals scored in the first half alone. NYRB II manager John Wolyniec had a small squad to choose from, due to injuries and the first team’s requirement for players because of the international break and its own injury issues. So the defending USL Champion started 2017 with only three substitutes on the bench.

In effect, that was only two subs - since reserve ‘keeper Evan Louro was unlikely to be called on unless something caused Rafa Diaz to exit the game.

It wasn’t quite the position of strength one might expect a league champ to start a new season from, John Wolyniec is well-accustomed to managing occasionally scant resources and a shorthanded match-day squad is not uncommon for NYRB II. (Though it is hard to find another example of the team being reduced to just 14 available players.)

But the game is played on the field, not the bench. NYRB II had eleven men on the pitch from the opening whistle and they proved a competitive unit against Pittsburgh.

The back line looked nervy early on and was troubled by Riverhounds striker Corey Hertzog, who he went close twice in the first five minutes. However, the II team managed to strike first when Arun Basuljevic’s nifty chip found Florian Valot who finished it off.

The lead would only last three minutes. The Riverhounds found an equalizer through Hertzog, who showed determination and a deft touch to beat Diaz to a bouncing ball in the box.

The game would continue to be wide open for the first 30 minutes, with both teams getting plenty of chances. NYRB II regained the lead in the 16th minute after some nice build-up play involving Junior Flemmings and Andrew Tinari. Vincent Bezecourt finished the move with a beautiful curling shot.

After a quick water break for both teams, the action didn’t slow down as Tim Schmoll’s through ball gave Flemmings a chance which was saved and Hertzog went close for Pittsburgh on a corner moments later. Pittsburgh would again tie the game after some quick passing found Kevin Kerr. The teams went in at half-time with the score at 2-2.

Around the hour mark, Wolyniec subbed out Flemmings - who had very limited preseason time due to injury - and brought in 17-year-old Academy prospect Ben Mines.

Both teams had chances in the 2nd half but NYRB II would break the deadlock in the 77th minute. The substitute Mines drew a penalty; Bezecourt stepped up and put it away.

NYRB II would give away a penalty minutes later and although Diaz was able to stop the effort from the spot, Hertzog was able to put away the rebound.

Both teams would have chances late on but neither was able to find the winning goal, giving each side a point to start the season.

From an attacking standpoint, the first game of the season went well. The team was able to create a good amount of chances, but the defense was a concern in this game. Pittsburgh played a lot of over the top passes in the game - especially in the first half -which seemed to trouble the defense. It could be down to lack of playing time together or miscommunication, but the occasional befuddlement of the back line when the ball was launched over the top is something to watch next game.

One such near miss for Pittsburgh precipitated by NYRB II’s early-season chemistry issues at the back can be seen around the 1:24 mark below:

Hassan Ndam and Ethan Kutler let a high ball bounce between them, and Kerr was a better first touch away from causing trouble in front of goal.

On a positive note, Bezecourt looked like the best player on the field for NYRB II. His first goal was well taken and he seemed to be involved in most of the chances the team created in the game. Flemmings played nearly an hour on artificial turf as he eases back from a long injury lay-off.

Later should be greater for the entire squad, not least because it will presumably have a few more players available in due course and competition for places will raise the level of the team across the board.

Next week, NYRB II will take on the Richmond Kickers in its 2017 home opener. It will be the team’s debut at Montclair State University - its new home field. Kick-off is at 4:00 pm on April 1.