After last week's disappointing capitulation to LA Galaxy II, New York Red Bulls II head coach John Wolyniec said his team was "not focused enough to be consistent". And results in 2017 support that view: NYRB II is win-some-lose-some mode so far this season. After nine league games, it has three wins, four losses, and two ties - good for sixth in the 15-team USL Eastern Conference.
Dig into that form a little deeper, and you find a team that is reliably good at home and not at all reliable anywhere else. All three wins to date have been at MSU Soccer Park - NYRB II's home field as of this season. The II team hasn't won a competitive game anywhere else in 2017, not even at Red Bull Arena, which used to be its home field.
It has currently lost two straight games: the 2-1 loss to LA at RBA on May 14 and the 5-1 mauling it was handed by Charlotte Independence on May 11. Both matches were, of course, not at MSU Soccer Park.
This week, the II team is back at home. Indeed, it will play four of its next five games at MSU. If home field is the secret to any success it will find while working its way out of its present away-day funk, then this is the stretch of matches to test that hypothesis.
The II team has plenty of excuses for its inconsistency. Injuries have depleted the roster, forcing Wolyniec to rotate even more than he normally would have to when he's simply focused on the player development priorities of his coaching mandate. The team's latest signing - Douglas Martinez - scored on his debut and promptly left the squad to join Honduras for the U-20 World Cup in Korea. He won't be back until the beginning of June, at the earliest.
Wolyniec can still put a lot of quality on the field. At the USL level - as he has been at every level he's been given regular minutes - Brandon Allen remains an extraordinary scoring threat: he has five goals in seven appearances to date. Vincent Bezecourt has cooled off slightly recently, but has five goals and three assists from nine appearances. Rookie Arun Basuljevic has settled in quickly in central midfield, as has 2017 SuperDraft sensation Zeiko Lewis in a more attacking role. At the back, constant rotation of personnel and positions seems to have unsettled the back line, but Hassan Ndam provides at least one moment every game which might cause you to question whether he really is just an 18-year-old who was playing high school soccer last season.
Unfortunately, he's also very much prone to moments when he looks a lot like he's still playing high school soccer. And the team must also cope with the fact that current starting 'keeper Evan Louro is prone to his share of rookie mistakes. But the back line is also put under a lot of pressure by forwards and midfielders too often disjointed and prone to coughing up the ball in situations that leave the team vulnerable counter-attacks.
So there is a lot of work to do all over the field. And yet, there have also been moments this season when the team has looked solid, disciplined, and tactically ahead of its opponent. Those moments have mostly come at MSU, and the II team could use one this week to stop the current losing skid and re-set its season. Inconsistency not withstanding, the Red Bulls reserves are in the top half of their Conference, and not so far away from the top (nine points behind Eastern Conference leaders Tampa Bay Rowdies) that they couldn't catch up with a turnaround in form.
And the II team doesn't have nearly the same problems as Ottawa Fury.
The Canadian club is a transplant from NASL. It lost the final of the NASL playoffs in 2015, but that season of success was bracketed by two losing campaigns. In its debut season in USL, the team has played seven games to date - and won one. As it happens, that win was on the road - against Richmond Kickers - so perhaps the Fury will be looking forward to an away-day. The team has only played three home games in USL so far this year, and has yet to score a goal in front of its home crowd. But its last road game brought a 2-2 draw against Charleston Battery, and the one before that was the win in Richmond.
The club has affiliated with Montreal Impact this season. L'Impact has done away with its stand-alone USL reserve team and is channeling some of its prospects to the Fury. As such, the Ottawa squad is peppered with former Montreal players - like Jimmy-Shammar Sannon - and loanees from the MLS team, like Michael Salazar.
Goals have been hard to come by so far this season, but the team does have Steevan Dos Santos on its books. He was a reliable scorer for Rochester Rhinos over the last two years, and his only goal for Ottawa to date was sensational (and a match-winner).
This is a match-up between two teams that haven't found their footing in USL just yet.
The Fury seems happier on the road, NYRB II is definitely more comfortable at MSU: both teams should be about as confident as they can be before kick-off.
NYRB II (last lineup - vs LA Galaxy, May 14)
Derrick Etienne was on the bench for the first team's match against Toronto FC on May 19, but didn't play - so no surprise if he continues to accumulate minutes for NYRB II. The back line can be expected to be largely shaped by whether Wolyniec continues to deploy Justin Bilyeu at left back - considered his primary position - or reverts to using the player as a center back, as had been the tendency until recently.
Ottawa Fury (last lineup - vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds; May 13)