There was a time not too long ago when MSU Soccer Park was the only place it appeared NYRB II was capable of winning. But that flipped around in June. The II team won its first (and, to date, only) road game of USL 2017 against Richmond Kickers on June 3, and promptly slumped to back-to-back losses at home, beaten by an aggregate score of 5-0 by Louisville City FC. Next, the Red Bulls reserves traveled to Ottawa to play another team that had taken three points out of MSU Soccer Park, and picked up a 2-2 draw.
So recent form suggests the II team is better on the road than at home. Maybe.
All it is really possible to discern from NYRB II's performances in USL 2017 to date is that the team is inconsistent. It has good days, it has bad days. Mostly, it has good stretches that rarely last a full 90 minutes, and any advantage gained during a bright moment of form is always at risk of being undermined by a sudden collapse in concentration or confidence. Case in point: Ottawa Fury's injury-time equalizer in the II team's last game.
Part of the reason for the II team's stop-start season is injuries. Over 15 matches in USL so far this year, NYRB II has not been able to field a full 18-man squad for game day more often than not - which speaks to a lack of depth and perhaps selection decisions based more on availability than merit. The team's injury issues seem to be clearing, with defenders Ethan Kutler and Jordan Scarlett recently available for selection.
But the Red Bulls also only had 16 men in Ottawa last week, and Douglas Martinez was subbed out before half-time. Further, the team's regular left-back and stand-in center-back, Justin Bilyeu, has been waived by RBNY since NYRB II was in Ottawa (where he set up the II team's first goal). The reason for the decision to cut Bilyeu loose has yet to reveal itself, and he may yet have be destined for a contract with the II team, but for now his abrupt departure from the Red Bulls system creates another hole in the NYRB II lineup for head coach John Wolyniec to fill.
On the brighter side, the team will have Junior Flemmings back for its latest outing, fresh from winning his first senior national team cap for Jamaica at Caribbean Cup. Striker Brandon Allen remains among the leading scorers in USL, and Vincent Bezecourt is the league's leading assist-man.
Attack is the II team's only reliable defense at present. NYRB II has the worst defense in the Eastern Conference: 30 goals conceded in 15 games. But it has scored the second-most goals in the East to date: 24 - a total bettered only by free-scoring, high-flying Charleston Battery.
This week's visitor to MSU Soccer Park, Saint Louis FC, has struggled a little for goals so far this season, scoring just 13 in its 12 league games to date. The team's top scorers are Christian Volesky and former RBNY man Jose Angulo, who have each scored four goals in USL 2017. Both are proven scorers at the USL level and will be expected to find the net several more times before the end of the season.
The Saint Louis roster also includes former II-teamer Konrad Plewa, who is an occasional starter in his first pro season outside the Red Bulls system.
STL FC is one of just four teams below NYRB II in the USL East standings. It has won just one of its last eight league games, but among its few wins this year is a 3-2 victory over the Red Bulls. That result was achieved in Saint Louis. The Red Bulls will hope to prove themselves a more resilient opponent at MSU Soccer Park, though they have only won one of their last four games at their new home field.
Of course, that win was over Charleston Battery - the best team in the USL East at the moment. When the II team is in the mood, it can still compete with the top sides in USL (indeed, it was one of those sides just last year), but that mood has manifested too infrequently for the Red Bulls this year. Saint Louis will hope for the good fortune of catching NYRB II on yet another of its off-days.