For every game it has played to date in USL 2017, New York Red Bulls II has put out a short bench: 14 players were named to play against Pittsburgh Riverhounds on opening day; 16 players have dressed for the II team in the other three matches.
The reason for this was left unexplained, despite no shortage of questions from those who follow the Red Bulls reserves. NYRB II is the defending USL champion and USL is now the second division of US soccer: it's not a great look when the reigning champ of D2 apparently can't find enough players for a full match-day squad - and this is the sort of issue that starts people chattering about MLS reserve teams harming USL's bid for greater credibility and a wider audience. "Your best team doesn't even need a full squad" - that sort of thing.
In the few places where people worry about NYRB II's roster issues online, some have suggested the short-handed squads were beings selected intentionally. No argument here: Once A Metro does not believe those running NYRB II are unable to count to 18 or forgot they were allowed to field 18 players. The question is not whether the II team had its reasons for persistently restricting its options on game day; the question is what those reasons might be.
NYRB II has finally obliged and opened up about the issues limiting its match-day selections, and they are the most obvious and common issues one might have expected: injuries.
Per an official release, the II team currently has six players nursing knocks of varying severity. 'Keeper Rafa Diaz and forward Florian Valot are both recovering from relatively minor issues - a bone bruise on the hand and a heel injury, respectively - that see them at the close-to-recovery end of the list (Diaz is described as "day-to-day" and Valot "questionable" for selection for NYRB II's April 14 game against Orlando City B.
In the mid-range of the II team's injury list, forward Stefano Bonomo is recovering from an early-April surgery for a sports hernia. No time-frame for his return to the field has been issued by the team, but he should be a couple of weeks in to what is generally assessed as a 4-6 week recovery process.
A little further out perhaps, center-back Jordan Scarlett suffered a shoulder injury in preseason and right-back Ethan Kutler reportedly picked up a foot injury in training recently. They are listed as out for 3-4 and 3-5 weeks respectively.
Finally, defender Andrew Lombard is estimated to be 6-8 weeks away from returning from a broken foot sustained last year - which also perhaps explains he has fallen out of any conversation about US U-20 Men's National Team candidates in recent months.
With four players out for (likely) more than a month at least, it starts to become easier to understand why NYRB II has struggled to get a full team together so far this season - and why it might continue to struggle to do so for the foreseeable future.