New York Red Bulls II will have their second home opener of the 2017 USL season on April 5, returning to Red Bull Arena for this first time since the team won last year's USL Cup at the stadium in October.
As tends to be the case with the II team, the roster has turned over significantly in the intervening months, though the the team deployed against Harrisburg City Islanders this week might be about as close to the one that beat Swope Park Rangers (5-1) in the USL Cup final as we see all season.
Though two players who appeared in NYRB II's big win in October have left the club entirely (Konrad Plewa and Zach Carroll, now with St. Louis FC and Orlando City B respectively, there are still 13 players attached to RBNY of the 15 who appeared for the II team that night. Aaron Long is a first-team starter now, so don't expect to see him unless he stops by the Arena to watch his friends from the stands; likewise, Tyler Adams has recently broken through to the Red Bulls' MLS starting lineup and is unlikely to see much (or any) II-team time this year.
But RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch has identified this reserve team game at RBA against Harrisburg City Islanders as a good opportunity to get some other players in his squad a run-out on their home field. Last week, Marsch mentioned he might give as many as five first-teamers a run with the II team against HCI.
His list included two players who started against Swope Park in October: goalkeeper Ryan Meara and attacker Derrick Etienne. Since then, Fredrik Gulbrandsen was held out of RBNY's MLS match against Houston Dynamo and Etienne started for the first team, so perhaps he won't be appearing at RBA for NYRB II. But Meara is Luis Robles' back-up this season and that means he hasn't seen competitive minutes for the first team yet - so a start to stay sharp makes a lot of sense for him.
With Meara in the mix, NYRB II could realistically feature up to 10 players from the Cup-winning team of 2016. Academy players Kevin O'Toole and Ben Mines have both featured for NYRB II already this season; Stefano Bonomo is on the roster (though he has yet to make an appearance this season); David Najem, Dan Metzger, Tim Schmoll, Vincent Bezecourt, and Florian Valot have all made starts for the II team in 2017. Brandon Allen was not specifically mentioned by Marsch as penciled in for reserve team time, but he could surely use a run after spending most of his time this season on the first team's bench.
So perhaps a reunion of sorts for the 2016 USL Cup winners will be staged at Red Bull Arena on April 5.
Additionally, Marsch said he hoped to see Gonzalo Veron, Michael Murillo, and Alex Muyl get minutes against HCI. Of those three, Muyl has seen the most regular time with the first team so far this season. Since breaking through to the first team last year, Muyl has been perceived to have brought less attacking firepower to the field than was expected based on his college and Academy career. Perhaps a run with the reserves is an effort to reconnect him with the scoring ability that appears to have been muted as he adapted his game to the requirements of RalfBall.
Veron is recovering from injury and had already slipped behind his coach's expectations for his recovery last week. It is to be hoped he gets some time against HCI because it is a sign he is in fact on track with the latest timetable for his return to the first team.
Murillo hasn't played a competitive minute for either RBNY or NYRB II yet this season. Marsch has been keen to make the point that the Panama national-teamer signed in the off-season is with the Red Bulls to play and has proven himself in training. This game will hopefully be a first opportunity for fans to see what it is that has caused Marsch to devote quite so much energy to talking up a player he has yet to trust with first-team minutes.
On the other side of the ball, Harrisburg City Islanders has expanded its collection of former Red Bulls, adding Manolo Sanchez to this season's roster. Sanchez was one of RBNY's 2015 MLS SuperDraft selections along with Shawn McLaws, who has been with HCI since 2016, and NYRB II's Stefano Bonomo. Another HCI regular, James Thomas, was on the II team's inaugural roster in 2015.
The City Islanders have also returned a couple of promising young Jamaican attacking players to their squad for this season: Paul Wilson and Cardel Benbow are back for another year with Harrisburg.
This will be the second game of the new season for HCI. The team lost, 1-0, on the road to Richmond Kickers.
After opening the season with a 3-3- draw in Pittsburgh, NYRB II celebrated its first win of 2017 against the Kickers on April 1, also 1-0. From this we perhaps learn more about the Kickers cussed defense than either of the teams that have played them.
The anticipated arrival of first team players might help NYRB II head coach John Wolyniec to field a full match-day squad for the first time this season. Against Pittsburgh, he was only able to assemble 14 players; for the game against Richmond, the II team had 16 players. Perhaps, at the third attempt, the 2016 USL Champion will have a full 18-player match-day squad.
Still early in the season and the plan to flood the reserves with first-teamers further complicates the task of guessing John Wolyniec's lineup, but here's a best guess.
NYRB II: Ryan Meara; Justin Bilyeu, Tim Schmoll, Hassan Ndam, Michael Murillo; Arun Basuljevic, Dan Metzger; Zeiko Lewis, Alex Muyl; Gonzalo Veron, Junior Flemmings
Harrisburg City Islanders: