New York Red Bulls II put an end to a three-game losing streak with last week's 2-1 win over Charleston Battery. It was an impressive result against the top team in the Eastern Conference, and can be taken as a sign that the II team is still capable of standing up to the best sides in USL - at home, at least.
NYRB II hasn't won every one of its home games in 2017, but it hasn't won any on the road yet this season. Indeed, its last away game was a disaster: a 5-1 unraveling against Charlotte Independence. It was the most extreme example of the II team's biggest issue at the moment: the defense is fragile and leaky. This year, the Red Bulls reserves have left points scattered across the USL's Eastern Conference, mostly thanks to a persistent inability to defend a lead. The team was in front in each of its last three losses, including the humbling by Charlotte.
Against Charleston last week, NYRB II bounced back from conceding the first goal to snatch a win. Scoring goals isn't much a problem for this year's II team - it has only failed to find the net once so far in USL 2017. But the back line has not been reliable, and that has made results reliably disappointing.
But there is some cause for optimism heading into this match. First, last week's win will have boosted flagging confidence in the squad. Second, the only clean sheet the team has kept to date this season was in its first game against Richmond this year, back on April 1. Third, the Kickers aren't in great form: Richmond has now gone six straight matches without a win.
For most of the season to date, the Kickers have been finding themselves on the wrong side of close games. Their first four league matches finished 1-0 - Richmond was the loser of three those games. And for the first 10 games of USL 2017, no team managed to score more than one goal in a match against the Kickers. The team's problem had been it had scored more than once in only game itself - but that scoring issue was resolved last week, when Richmond put three goals past Ottawa Fury. Unfortunately, Ottawa scored five.
The Kickers will hope the 5-3 loss to the Fury was an aberration. They can still consider themselves defensively solid. NYRB II can make no such claim. As such, these teams would appear to have neutralizing strengths. Perhaps a draw is the most likely outcome.