Season Preview 2016: New York Reds Bull II

IMAGE, NEWYORKREDBULLS.COM

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

New York Red Bull II’s inaugural season in the USL was a combination of excitement and intrigue that ended up proving just how deep and effective the Red Bull development academy can be.

A team made up predominantly of MLS first team cast-offs, Superdraft signings and youth players pushed their way into the Eastern Conference semi-final game and earned the respect of many who saw them as nothing more than a minor league.

The 2016 season looks to provide a new set of challenges for coach John Wolyniec and his Red Bulls II side. No longer is the team shrouded in mystery. It be up to the second year coach to navigate a successful 28 game regular season while also keeping the ideals of player development as the team’s major driving force. Players like Derrick Etienne, Tyler Adams and Brandon Allen will more than likely see significant minutes with Red Bull II despite being part of the Red Bull MLS roster. For them, the games are a proving ground as they look to position themselves for minutes in MLS.

However, as we saw in 2015 with the likes of Manolo Sanchez and Leo Stolz, poor performances and lack of continuity in the USL can easily find you on the outs all together.

2015 Finish: 12 wins, 10 losses and 6 draws. Eliminated from the Eastern Conference semi-final by the Rochester Rhinos.

Outgoing Players:

Santiago Castano, Leo Stolz, Manolo Sanchez, Bolu Akinyode, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Matt Da Fonte, Marius Obekop, Chris Tsonis, Shawn McLaws, Juan Sebastian Sanchez, Franklin Castellanos, and Colin Heffron

It certainly reads like a very large turnover list for NYRB II. However, when you consider the amount of academy call-ups and potential MLS loanees the team may have, this kind of turnover should be expected. Some of the releases were shocking since we listed Leo Stolz as the best player on the team in 2015, but considering the depth at midfield that New York has on the MLS roster, an argument can be made for why he just wasn’t on that level.

Remaining Players:

Stefano Bonomo, Dan Metzger, Derrick Etienne, Tyler Adams, Rafael Diaz, Dan Metzger, Konrad Plewa and Devon Williams

By the end of the 2015 season, the core of Red Bull II team was taking shape. Despite leaving for college early in the season, it felt like an inevitability that Derrick Etienne would return in a prominent role in 2016. While he and Tyler Adams are technically signed to MLS contracts, expect them to be loaned to the USL side for most of the season barring injury. These two combined with the defensive prowess of Dan Metzger and speed of Devon Williams, round out a solid midfield for NYRB II.

At the very top sits Stefano Bonomo, a player who was a late arrival after a tempestuous relationship with the front office. Bonomo, the 39th pick in the MLS Superdraft, opted to try is luck in Europe but couldn’t find a place before returning to the United States. Upon his return, he signed with the USL side and, while no one is discussing it, he is surely hoping to make a case for an MLS contract in 2016. With three goals in nine appearances, Bonomo proved to be a much more effective striking option than Chris Tsonis who placed five in the back of the net in 26 appearances.

Incoming Players:

Vincent Bezecourt, Aaron Long and Tim Schmoll

Smart signings for NYRB II all around as Aaron Long provides a defensive midfielder knowledge base that is essential for a very young team. Long played 27 games with the Seattle Sounders FC 2 in 2015 and could potentially fill a much needed role at centerback if necessary. Vincent Bezecourt and Tim Schmoll look to strengthen the midfield as depth is an essential part of navigating the rough USL schedule.

The Youth:

As usual, New York Red Bull II will provide much needed live game minutes for academy and collegiate players. So far, the team has 11 trialists on the preseason roster, with two being former academy talents and will more than likely rotate a good number of them into the squad depending on performance. Youth is the backbone of most MLS/USL teams and Red Bull looks to continue that in 2016 with NYRB II.

Current trialists include:

Walter Calderon, Steward Ceus*, Fernando Cortez, Jeremiah Dabrowski, Junior Flemming, Cheikh M’baye, Pat McCann, Kyle McCord*, Kevin Olaya, Adrian Tucker, Florian Valot

*Former USL or NASL players

The Questions:

Can John Wolyniec keep up last year’s momentum?

One of the biggest positives from 2015 was how well John Wolyniec and his staff handled a new team with an unsettled stadium situation and a ton of expectation. The results have to be seen as a huge success with the team looking like a serious threat to the championship, especially down the stretch. This year brings a new set of challenges. Wolyniec and his team will once again have a large group of new players, but this time, a significantly longer stretch of time to prepare them for the season. On top of that, he has a core group of players who understand the USL and can provide leadership to younger talent.

Where will NYRB II play their home games?

Stadium issues have plagued NYRB II since their inception. At first it appeared that a home at Columbia University’s soccer field in uptown Manhattan would be a strong base of operations. However, disagreements between the team and facility forced all of their games from the local community of Inwood back to Harrison, New Jersey and the cavernous confines of Red Bull Arena.

The team has spoken at length about the need for a new venue to call home but has yet to provide any information as to where that might be.

Last season New York did play a home game in the US Open Cup against Jersey Express at NJIT’s soccer field. Some have eluded to that being a possibility once renovations are complete. The team has remained tight-lipped about the possibilities. Currently their schedule shows USL games at Red Bull Arena up until the June 26th home game against Wilmington.

Can the team attract fans?

Attendance was sparse in 2015 and much of that can center around the lack of a solid home base. While that remains a dominant reason it has to be noted that the NASL side New York Cosmos have also been unable to draw large crowds consistently in the lower divisions. Red Bull II will certainly hope to increase their attendance which was a sad average of just below 600 fans per game.

Attracting fans in the lower divisions is never an easy task. However, it is a problem that many MLS/USL teams face, especially in major cities. The LA Galaxy II average just under 1,000 fans despite going to the USL Championship game in 2015. Even soccer-crazy towns like Portland and Seattle can barely break the 3,000 mark for home games.

The Prediction:

New York Red Bull II shocked many USL followers in 2015 with their strong play and ability to eek out results. Now that they are a known commodity in the league, they may find more challenges from the establishment. There is a precedent set by the LA Galaxy II that the MLS/USL teams can be ultra competitive in league play and Red Bull II will hope to not only make the playoffs but progress further than last year.

A third place finish for the team is not beyond the realm of possibility with a strong playoff run likely to follow.