It is worth putting eyes on the New York Red Bulls II on July 12. The team is on the road, playing Harrisburg City Islanders at FNB Field. In itself, it is merely a mid-table match between two sides having similarly underwhelming seasons in the Eastern Conference of USL.
But for RBNY fans, the lineup should provide some clues as to the first-team's intentions for its US Open Cup quarterfinal against New England Revolution on July 13. NYRB II head coach John Wolyniec likely won't be able to call on any first-teamers penciled in to play USOC the next day. Also, the Red Bulls can loan USL players up to the Open Cup squad if they wish - so a missing name or two from the roster in Harrisburg might indicate a shot at first-team time the next day.
The II team has already played HCI twice this season: losing 1-0 at Red Bull Arena on April 5, and winning 3-1 at MSU Soccer Park on May 6. This will be the last time the teams will play each other in the regular season this year.
NYRB II's form remains stubbornly indifferent. It lost to Bethlehem Steel, 2-0, in its last outing; in the game before that, it beat Saint Louis FC, 1-0; prior to that game, there was a 2-2 draw with Ottawa Fury. Sometimes the team seems to have found its stride, and it has tended to follow any such promising showing with a near-immediate stumble.
It's a similar story for Harrisburg City Islanders. Their last two games were on the road: a 4-3 win over Toronto FC II, followed by a 1-0 loss to Rochester. Before that, they played back-to-back games at home: a 1-0 loss to Bethlehem Steel, followed by a 1-0 win over Louisville City.
Harrisburg's primary issue to date is the absence of a consistent scoring threat. The roster includes several promising attacking players, but the team's top-scorers this season are Aaron Wheeler, Paul Wilson, and Pedro Ribeiro - each of whom has found the net twice so far in 2017. Call that a balanced attack if you are feeling charitable.
HCI's squad features several former Red Bulls: Shawn McLaws, James Thomas, and Manolo Sanchez were attached to RBNY (or NYRB II) as recently as 2015.
Both teams could use the boost of a positive result; neither is in great form. But perhaps HCI - with home field advantage and the slightly worse league position - has the greater opportunity and incentive to take three points. NYRB II - on short rest and likely short-handed - will do well to take something out of this game.