In 2016, New York Red Bulls II won the USL regular season title and USL Cup. In 2017, things are not going quite so well. After 17 games, the team has already lost more games (eight, compared to three in 2016) and conceded more goals (32, compared to 21 last year) than it did over 30 regular-season matches in 2016.
These things happen, particularly for teams structured the way the II team is set up: it is a development squad, obligated to let its best players advance their careers. After a spectacular 2016, NYRB II sent USL Defender of the Year Aaron Long up to the Red Bulls first team, where he has quickly established himself as an ever-present on the back line. Other players - like midfielder Devon “Speedy” Williams - were released to find opportunities with other clubs (Williams is currently with Louisville City FC).
The II team re-loaded in the off-season and results so far in 2017 suggest that the re-tooled squad doesn’t add up to anything nearly as effective as last year’s group. One of the best teams - results-wise, at least - in USL history last history has suddenly regressed to a side that seemingly cannot connect passes properly, succumbs to indecision all over the field, and doesn’t seem capable of regularly taking its chances.
The II team isn’t completely inept this year. It is is just mightily inconsistent. It has good days, it has bad days, and it is hard to predict either.
On the road against Bethlehem Steel at Goodman Stadium on July 9, NYRB II had another bad day. The home team picked up two goals and three points; the visiting Red Bulls reserves were about as disappointing as they have ever been this season.
It is a team game and the players and head coach John Wolyniec know all the right things to say after a disappointing performance - most of which is not being afraid of the hard truth that the other side was better on the day. Wolyniec made clear he wasn’t happy with the overall commitment to the cause shown by his team, and suggested he’d be making some changes for the next game:
Pretty sure we got outworked, out pressed, and out counter pressed. Just not a great effort from our guys top to bottom. It was disappointing.
But there was one bright spot in the post-game gloom: center-back Tim Schmoll looked to be in promising form.
He battled Steel forward Chris Nanco twice, showing good awareness, poise, and decision-making on both occasions. In the 10th minute, Nanco and Schmoll were neck and neck, running towards the Red Bulls II net, but Schmoll was able to force his man away from the net and got to the end line to hold up play.
It was a great job by Schmoll to use his height advantage and strength to keep Nanco away from the net, eliminate the danger, and get the ball out to a teammate to send the Red Bulls back up the field with possession.
Three minutes later, he was tussling with Nanco again. After coughing up the ball and maybe expecting a foul, the Steel sprung Nanco for another attacking run and Schmoll was once again with him stride for stride. It looked like there was some clutching and grabbing going on, but as soon as Nanco went down the referee motioned him to get up and continue.
It wasn’t enough in the end, but it was at least a hint that Schmoll could contribute effectively to the second half of the II team’s season. Not that he was in any mood to celebrate a couple of successful duels after the game.
I think on those two plays I was just in the right spot at the right time. If we are so porous in the back that we are giving up other opportunities, it is only a matter of time until they break through. So, I think again we can all do more as a back four in communicating with each other and no matter what the result of those plays are, just the fact we are giving up so many dangerous plays in a game, even if we kept a clean sheet for the first half, I think we would still be upset with the fact that we were giving up opportunities.
Those are the things to look at even if it ends up as a goal or not, it may not be relevant for the score, but it is relevant for us as a back line.
His coach agreed:
Listen, when we get in trouble we bail each other out, so you avoid looking really bad by making a good play, but you could get yourself out of the line of fire. We need to try and do things beforehand so we don't have to make heroic defensive plays.
NYRB II knows what it needs to do, and players like Schmoll were around last season when those things were being done. Against Bethlehem Steel, he showed signs of being able to summon something of the sort of form and commitment the team had in 2016 and will need again for a positive 2017.
Last year, he was behind Long and Zach Carroll on the CB depth chart. This season, perhaps he is ready to take on a leading role at the back.
The II team is in action again on July 12, on the road against Harrisburg City Islanders.