Who: NYRB II vs Tampa Bay Rowdies
Where: Red Bull Arena
When: Saturday, April 14 at 4:00 pm
It’s been a little over five months since the 120 minute playoff battle that New York Red Bulls II and Tampa Bay Rowdies put on that left everyone on the edge of their seats. On Saturday both these teams will look to go at it again.
Strangely enough these teams met twice in the final six games of the season before their playoff encounter. Both teams won at home, NYRB II took the game at Montclair State University in a 4-2 win, while Tampa Bay Rowdies won 3-2 at Al Lang Stadium. This will be the first time these two will meet at Red Bull Arena as they will follow the senior teams’ game against the Montreal Impact.
Enough about though let’s get into what matters right now.
NYRB II’s Adequate Start and New Faces
John Wolyniec’s men have gotten off to a decent winning both of their home games against Charleston Battery and Toronto FC II, but have only picked up a point in two games away from home. They haven’t been short of attacking options with Andrew Tinari being the primary playmaker (he leads the USL in chances created with 15) and their top scorer as well with three goals on the year. Amando Moreno and Brian White have two goals each as well, while Ben Mines is expected to take the next step this year and has done well so far.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of NYRB II has been their midfield, both Steven Echevarria and Cristian Cásseres have impressed. Although Echevarria was injured during last weekend’s game against Richmond Kickers which could mean Jose Aguinaga who scored in the game against the Kickers could start in his place.
One area that remains a concern for this team is the backline as they have susceptible on the counter. They have rotated between three and four at the back, with the latter seeming to more comfortable for the players. Hassan Ndam and Jordan Scarlett continue to grow as a CB pairing and Kevin Politz has impressed in his limited action this year. Ethan Kutler continues his development at left back while 2018 MLS SuperDraft second round pick Niko de Vera has impressed with both his defensive and attacking qualities so far at right back. As for Evan Louro, who was the hero in the playoff game against Tampa Bay, it seems he continues to get better with each game he sees.
The Rowdies Start Hot
I think Stuart Campbell and his team would be lying if they didn’t tell you this was one of the games they circled on the calendar early in the year. Saturday’s game along with the their match at Louisville City (a 1-0 loss) two weeks ago were games to put a mark down as being one of the best teams in the Easter Conference. Did I forget to mention they added to former NYRB II players that were on the team last year? Both David Najem and Junior Flemmings who were apart of last years team that reached Eastern Conference Finals have helped add to a strong squad.
The Rowdies sit tied with Louisville atop the Eastern Confernce, abeilt with a game in hand on them. Outside of their tough loss to Louisville, Tampa Bay has come out hot to start beating North Carolina FC, Bethlehem Steel and Ottawa Fury decisively.
Up front Georgi Hristov and Leo Fernandes have three goals apiece, while the midfield of Marcel Schäfer, Joe Cole and Jack Blake are full of experience. The backline of Najem, Hunter Gorskie, Neill Collins and Zac Portillos have only conceded two goals through their first four games. Meanwhile goalkeeper Cody Mizell who came over from Charlotte Independence has impressed as well as he is tied with Louro for the most saves in the league with 14.
What to Watch For
- A big first half
Slow starts seem to be a common theme among these two. Both of these teams have thrived in the second half through their first four games this year. 7 of NYRB II’s 9 goals have come in the second half. For Tampa Bay it’s a similar situation, out of their 10 goals, 8 of them have come in the second half including a five spot against Ottawa. If either team comes out with a good first 45 minutes, it could be a determining factor in who comes on out top.
2. Battle of the midfields
These midfields are so contrasting just because of the experience Tampa Bay has over NYRB II. Tinari is the only returning midfielder that has played major minutes against the Rowdies, but he will be in a different role compared last year. Therefore it will be up to the combination of Aguinaga, Cásseres and Echevarria (depending on his fitness) to keep Tampa Bay’s midfield in check. As for Tampa Bay Cole, Blake and Schäfer are threats from both goal scoring and their ability to create. Both Cole and Schäfer played a big part in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 win last season at Al Lang Stadium (Schäfer had 2 goals and an assist, Cole a goal and assist), but with the youth in the midfield for NYRB II they will have to be cautious of their press and speed. It should be an interesting match-up much like it was in last year’s games.
3. Two Teams Who Love to Attack
Moving Andrew Tinari to the “10” role has worked out well for Wolyniec to start the season. He’s been involved in a lot of NYRB II’s chances and has surpassed his goals total from last year. Moreno has started to grow into his position in the left, while Mines flanks Tinari to the right. Up top Brian White has two goals in his last three appearances and we should also not forget about Stefano Bonomo who had 3 goals in 3 games against Tampa Bay last year including a brace in the Eastern Conference Semifinals match. While Tampa Bay hasn’t conceded many goals this season, they haven’t been tested by an attack like NYRB II’s.
NYRB II’s defense will have to be wary of Hristov and Fernandes who as mentioned above each have three goals on the season. My guess is Wolyniec decides to go with the same back four of Kutler, Scarlett, Ndam and de Vera as he has in the past two games. I would be shocked if Junior Flemmings didn’t start this game because of the outlet he can provide on the break. The back four will have to be in constant communication and aware of how dangerous Tampa Bay’s front three are.
Much like their first encounter at Montclair last season, plenty of chances, a few goals, but both teams will walk away with a point each from this game. A 2-2 draw sounds about right.