New York Red Bulls II suffered a difficult start to the return of USL play this past weekend, suffering a 1-0 loss to Hartford Athletic Saturday at an empty Red Bull Arena.
With the entirety of the first team sitting somewhere in the sprawling Disney complex in Orlando, John Wolyniec had to scrape together a lineup that predominantly featured debutants and academy products. Three new players graced the starting XI and all were featured in prominent positions on the field. Barry Sharifi, an MLS SuperDraft pick from Loyola Maryland, made his debut in the defensive midfield opposite Kyle Zajec. Cherif Dieye, another draft pick from Louisville, made his debut on the left wing in attack and made an immediate impact. However the most notable debut was the seventeen year old Caden Clark who occupied the role directly behind the forward. Clark, who came over from the U.S. Barcelona Residency Academy this past winter, is a highly regarded attacking prospect and showed why the hype and excitement around him is well founded. Despite playing against defenders several years his senior, Clark was still able to maneuver and create chances for himself in and around the Hartford box.
Wolyniec decided to go with Sebastian Elney up front, and really lacked many options to choose anyone else. Bringing back Elney, who spent the majority of last season as a sub and spot starter, for a second campaign has turned out to be quite fortuitous, as the only other products capable of lining up there may be inexperienced Omar Sowe and academy prospects. The other position of concern is leftback, and this is a position that was up in the air at the start of the season as well. 6’7” Jersey native and converted forward Joe Fala spelled in at left back with John Tolkin and Patrick Seagrist in Orlando with the senior team, Fala would eventually move back to centerback at the end of the game and Samad Bounthong, who started at left back in March, would move to hold down the position for the duration.
The game itself was decided when rookie goalkeeper Wallis Lapsley misjudged a long ball from Hartford Athletic goalkeeper Parfait Mandanda. The ball sailed over Lapsley’s head and the UC Davis product was unable to catch up with Ever Guzman, who calmly slotted home to give Hartford their 1-0 lead. From this point Hartford were content to bunker up and ride out the majority of the game, and were especially able to utilize their veteran bodies and mindset to great effect in the second half.
Caden Clark had the best of the chances to equalize in RB2’s fightback, creating space for himself on numerous occasions, and Cherif Dieye provided decent support from the left. Wolyniec’s second half subs, mostly the younger academy players making professional debuts, would struggle to make an impact against the Hartford backline. The best chance of the game came in the dying minutes of extratime when a rocket off the foot of substitute Deri Corfe slammed off the post and landed at the feet of fifteen year old Dantouma “Yaya” Toure. The youngster was unable to manage the touch and poise to finish the chance, and the game ended 0-1 to Hartford, giving Athletic their first win of the season and first win in their rivalry with RB2.
Next up for the Baby Bulls is the Philadelphia Union II, a match which will take place at more or less the same time as the senior team’s game against FC Cincinnati on the 22nd of July. The Philadelphia Union II squad got battered by the veteran heavy Pittsburgh Riverhounds in their return fixture, and will also be lining up a squad of primarily academy talent. It will be a great game to see what the youth of Red Bull II have in store, and many will have competed against their opponents in academy fixtures prior to this game. Expect to see two sides pressing each other on young legs, hopefully a frantic and exciting night of soccer from the two rivals.