The downside of the New York Red Bulls II plethora of talent, is the inability to keep all the talented players. This year, NYRBII lost three such players waiving Junior Flemmings, David Najem, and Stefano Bonomo. This weekend, NYRBII will face two of those players at their new club, the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
NYRBII face talented former teammates in Rowdies’ Flemmings and Bonomo
Najem sustained an ACL injury in a visit to Red Bull Arena earlier this season. The Red Bulls won the match 5-0.
As the Rowdies look to salvage their season, Bonomo and Flemmings slotted into a familiar starting role. Flemmings is comming off of the USL Player of the Week award after a strong offensive display. Flemmings contributed a goal and two assists in the Rowdies’ last outing. Bonomo also scored in the match, the beneficiary of a Flemmings assist.
The attackers found a lot of success at NYRBII, winning the USL Cup and USL Shield in 2016. Bonomo made 65 appearances for NYRBII, scoring 24 goals and notching 9 assists. Flemmings made 55 appearances for the club, scoring 17 goals and adding 6 assists. Both players drew praise from then New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch. But a variety of injuries and a struggle to maintain form kept them from rising up the depth chart.
Flemmings and Bonomo played a vital role in NYRBII attack at the tail end of the 2017 season. Their chemistry and familiarity did not go unnoticed by new Rowdies head coach Neill Collins.
“Obviously, having Junior played a huge role in us signing Stefano,” said Collins this week. “We knew they played together for two seasons and the chemistry was there. It clearly showed in our last game, where Junior played a huge role in the win, and assisted Bonomo on his first goal with the club. We’re looking forward to watching them play against their former club, and hopefully coming away with the three points.”
Despite the familiarity, Evan Louro does not see it as a problem.
“Yeah, there’s some familiarity there, but you know as great friends as they were when they were here, when the whistle blows, it’s all business,” said Louro during practice this week. “So I think they’re in the same mindset as me and you know after the game, then we’ll all hang out and stuff like that, but when it comes down to the game, we’re not really worried about that.”
NYRBII are not particularly sentimental. Former Red Bull players are a common site in USL. Players both vital and fringe are playing various roles in their new squads. Devon “Speedy” WIlliams is a staple at Louisville City FC, part of the team that won the USL Cup last season. Brandon Allen, NYRBII’s all-time leading scorer, plies his trade at Nashville SC, though his success has faltered since leaving the club.
Facing former teammates does hold an advantage, but NYRBII coach John Wolyniec sees it as a two sides of the same coin.
“Maybe a little bit [of an advantage facing old teammates],” said Wolyniec from practice. “But obviously on the flip side you have motivation for them. I’m sure they’re going to be revved up and ready to go, and going to want to prove themselves to Red Bull and think there’s enough of a story around playing against Tampa between some of the games we’ve had and the playoffs last year, so there’s plenty around the game, which is good, and it’ll be good to see those guys and compete against them.”
Flemmings is ready. He sees playing former teammates as something special, but also wants to see his side avenge the aforementioned loss earlier this season.
“Playing against your former team is always special,” said Flemmings. “We struggled in New York earlier on in the season, so we’re looking for a little bit of revenge come Saturday night. We had a great performance last week at home and hopefully we can replicate that this Saturday.”
Photos By Bill Twomey Photography