With another quick turnaround of games to be run by New York Red Bulls II, things would not go as smoothly for the club as the last time around. RB2 lost both of their games this past week, falling 3-2 against fellow reserve side Philadelphia Union II and getting solidly beaten 4-1 against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds three days later.
A few changes were introduced for this next round of Group F matches, the primary ones for RB2 being the reintroduction of a few familiar faces. First team players John Tolkin and Chris Lema were back in the ranks of the USL team this week after traveling to Orlando for the MLS is Back tournament, though neither saw any action in the competition. Another change of significance was the announcement that Kyle Zajec would be out for the rest of the USL Championship season following a serious foot injury. As of the writing of this account, Zajec has left hospital after a successful surgery and will hopefully begin rehab soon. Zajec, who has been in the New York Red Bulls sporting umbrella since he was 13, is one of the longest tenured professionals in the whole organization. Functioning as the team’s de facto captain since the restart, the leadership and steady hand Zajec provided anchoring a midfield surrounded by change will be sorely missed.
For the first game of the week, the reinforced RB2 side visited Chester, Pennsylvania for a rematch with their fellow reserve side. The Philadelphia Union II, who had fired their head coach Sven Gartung only an hour before kickoff, played like a team with nothing to lose. Coming out guns blazing and willing to press, this strategy reaped an immediate reward when Union II scored after only 19 seconds of play. Scoring on their first touch of the game after an error by rookie backstop Wallis Lapsley, Union II would be unable to retain their advantage throughout the whole of the first half.
The Baby Bulls equalized in the 32nd minute after Sebastian Elney was brought down in the box by the Union II goalkeeper. Elney took the spot kick himself and buried it, restoring the balance between the two reserve sides. Things were not all rosy for RB2 and, despite taking the lead minutes later after the first professional goal in the career of Cherif Dieye, there were clear warning signs. At no point did the older, and more experienced Red Bull side look to have the Union II on the back foot. Every charge and counter charge was met with a parry and thrust from their opponents.
Even during the most dangerous moments, Union II kept their shape defensively and forced RB2 into well covered channels or low percentage chances. Right before the halftime whistle, Union II would equalize, overloading the left hand flank on a counter attack which caught the defensive marking of RB2 flat footed. An unselfish pass between Philly attackers removed Lapsley from the equation, and Jack McGlynn made no mistake, slotting the chance home. The second half did not see near the fireworks as the first, and everything RB2 tried felt a little off. The offensive fireworks displayed in the initial game and first half were extinguished. Philadelphia Union II would score in the 72’ to put the game away, and walk out of Subaru Park with their first victory of the season after winning 3-2.
The second game of the week was probably New York Red Bulls II’s most difficult game of the season. Away, against a Pittsburgh Riverhounds side clamoring for another shot at a team which, in their minds, won the last meeting on a fluke penalty. The clinical and well organized Riverhounds made no mistakes this time and dispatched RB2, 4-1. The Baby Bulls once again gave up a goal in the opening 90 seconds of a match. This time on a penalty after rookie fullback Samad Bounthong took down Ropapa Mensah in the box, following a breakaway on goal.
The remainder of the game saw an exhausted Baby Bull side getting fully broken down and exploited by the Riverhounds, who scored and sent the ball past the defense with frightening regularity. The final score would be 4-1, the lone bright spot being a goal scored in the dying minutes by recently turned 16-year-old Dantouma “Yaya” Toure.
The next fixture comes tonight as New York Red Bulls II return home initially to play their first game against Loudoun United this season. Then on Saturday they make their first trip out to Hartford to take on one of the top two teams in Group F.
Group F Standings
Pittsburgh Riverhounds: 12 points (6 games played)
Hartford Athletic: 12 points (5 games played)
New York Red Bulls II: 6 points (6 games played)
Philadelphia Union II: 4 points (6 games played)
Loudoun United FC: 1 point (3 games played)