Red Bulls, Red Bulls II, soccer
The New York Red Bulls II vs.Tampa Bay Rowdies at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, NJ on August 6, 2021. (Ben Solomon/New York Red Bulls)

USL PREVIEW: Baby Red Bulls vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds

After suffering a 3-0 defeat to the Miami FC, the New York Red Bulls II will play one of their oldest rivals, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Wednesday at 6:00 PM with streaming available with subscription on ESPN Plus. 

Wednesday, John Wolyniec's men begin a stretch where they will play eight times in 30 days with a game against one of their most bitter USL Championship division rivals, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Wolyniec and his opposing head coach, Bob Lilley have gone head-to-head three times already this season and about six times in the last two years, with the Riverhounds taking all but one of those games. 

In July, 2020, the Red Bulls II's current biggest goal-scoring threat, Omar Sowe scored a beautiful volley against Pittsburgh at Red Bull Arena. He has two goals in five games against the Riverhounds in his career.

The Riverhounds have scored seven goals in their last two games. The Red Bulls II have lost all three of their meetings with Head Coach Bob Lilley's men and surrendered eight goals while scoring just twice, but that does not mean the Baby Bull don't believe they can win.

 From the team's point of view, they are in seventh place and out of playoff contention. They will need to go on a historic run in the final 10 games of the season to qualify. However, head coach Wolyniec is not basing success on team record, but rather on how each player has grown through the course of the season.

New Jersey native Omar Sowe started off the year with just one goal in ten games, and in his last eight, has scored five. New York may have lost their last game in Miami, but head coach Wolyniec was able to sub in two young players and give them valuable experience. Those players were Luther Archimede and 17-year-old Red Bull academy product, Nico Rabiu. Both subbed in near the end of the match for the two starting strikers.

Perspective Ahead of Big Game

Fans will look at the Baby Bulls' final game against a division rival on Wednesday and demand victory. I know seeing the Red Bulls II lose 3-1 on July 23 at MSU Soccer Park was agonizing, however as for the  Red Bulls II players, they have a responsibility to be better than I am and to not let what happened in the past influence the way they approach the game and perform when the chips are down.

That is what former MLS striker and USL Championship manager John Wolyniec ascribes to. The Staten Island-native is now in his seventh year with Red Bulls II and his approach remains the same; develop the players, teach them the Red Bull way, that is more important than wins and losses, because the fans want to see the many under-20 players on this team become MLS players.

Austin FC's Jared Stroud and the Red Bulls Tom Barlow are two players who developed with the Red Bulls II in 2019. 

New York's manager reiterates that despite the team losing five of it's last six games, new players have emerged, like the 16-year-old forward Serge Ngoma who scored his first goal on Aug. 20 and that developing them is the "main goal."

We have to make sure that it [the results] doesn’t deter us from getting better, that’s the main goal. When you start losing games, I’m sure there’s some frustration, but we just have to make sure that we’re taking each game as it comes and not worrying about what’s down the path, which will allow us to be focused and able to get everything we can out of each game because that’s the most important thing for our young players. - John Wolyniec

What the Matchups Look Like

As an ice hockey player and coach I recognize the importance of starting games out strongly. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team that scores the first goal in a playoff game, will gain an edge and the same is true about soccer.

When the Red Bulls II hosted the Riverhounds on July 23, they gave up a goal in the first ten minutes. The player who scored on A.J. Marcucci was Alex Dixon.

Dixon is the oldest player in the USL Championship who the Red Bulls II have faced this season at 31-years-old. Dixon has two goals against the Red Bulls II in 2021 and is tied for 15th in USL with seven goals. 

  • Injuries
  • Defense: Jalen Robinson and Jordan Dover
  • Midfield: Josh Gatt
  • Forwards: Albert Dikwa-Lega

The Riverhounds website reported before the game that Pittsburgh has only 17 healthy outfield players heading into this match. Despite missing two consistent starters in Dikwa-Lega and Anderson, the Hounds were able to defeat the fourth-place team, Hartford Athletic 3-2 in their last game. 

Pittsburgh as a team rank fifth in the USL Championship with 35 goals. Russell Cicerone's 13 goals are the most on the Riverhounds and the second-most in the league ,and Cicerone scored twice in the Riverhounds' last game, including the game winner in stoppage time. 

The Baby Bulls' mature midfielder, Daniel Edelman described what his team can do that may lead to a better result on the road, where his team are better than they are at home with a 2-3-3 record.

I think we need to start out the game well against Pittsburgh, playing them away is super challenging, and we have to start off on the right foot or else it’s going to be very difficult for us to get back in front. They have some really talented players up top, and I think we just need to be smart on the defensive end. Of course, we have to bury our chances in the attacking half so we can start out well, put a few away early and get out on the front foot.

One thing's for certain and that is that the Red Bulls II are absolutely desperate for a win. Head coach Wolyniec may harp on the fact that this season is about developing the young players, but stopping the bleeding after a five-game losing streak is absolutely necessary to make sure the players continue to play hard the rest of the season. 

They have a tough month of September ahead of them, with games against Hartford Athletic on Saturday Sept. 4 back in the friendly confines of Montclair State University. The average age of the Red Bulls II is 19.1 compared to Pittsburgh's 24.9, judging the team's first 18 players. This means the Red Bulls II are on average five years younger than the Riverhounds, showing the experience gap, nevertheless, they will be fresh because Red Bulls have played just one game in the last ten games, while Riverhounds have played two.

Anthony Paradiso
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