New year, same outcome. For the third year in a row New York Red Bulls II and Louisville City FC will play each other in the USL Eastern Conference finals on Friday.
Preview: NYRBII vs Louisville City FC, so we meet again
Coincidentally NYRB II and Louisville City will be meeting for a third time this season as well. The two teams managed a 3-3 draw at Louisville Slugger Field at the end of June which was former Louisville City manager James O’Connor’s last match with team before his departure to Orlando City. NYRBII lost to LCFC 6-4 at Montclair State University Soccer Park in August.
Since NYR II won their first road game of the season back on October 6th, they have won all of their games. The defense is a far cry from what it was this season, with two clean sheets against two top teams in the Eastern Conference in the first two rounds.
Hassan Ndam has been one of the main reasons behind the defenses success especially with his work on Fanendo Adi last weekend. Ndam had struggled to find consistency in his game throughout the season, but down the stretch one could argue he’s been the best center back in USL. His center back partner Kevin Politz has made strides in his development as well, Ethan Kutler has put in good work as well and Allen Yanes has locked down the right back role.
Perhaps one area of concern for NYRBII is the lack of scoring in the first two rounds. Against Charleston Battery, Wolyniec’s men were able to create a good amount of chances, but some poor finishing left them wanting more. Against FC Cincinnati, they weren’t able to create a lot. That could be a concern because of how Louisville City has played so far in the playoffs. This team isn’t short of attacking options with likes of Jared Stroud, Amando Moreno, Anatole Abang, Tom Barlow and Jose Aguinaga being dangerous. Barlow and Aguinaga helped engineer the comeback in the 3-3 draw at Louisville Slugger Field earlier this season.
The midfield also played a key role in the comeback earlier this season at Slugger Field. Andrew Tinari, Chris Lema and Cristian Casseres controlled the match in the second half which led to NYRBII creating more chances. However, the team will be without Casseres this time around, so it will be up to Tinari, Lema, and possibly Steven Echevarria to gain control of the midfield.
Louisville City’s Domination
Dominant. That’s the only word to describe the defending champs form down the stretch. After John Hackworth took over in the middle of August, the team had a bit of a lull. After regaining form, they finished 6-0-0 to end the season scoring 17 goals and only conceding 3. They carried that form over into the playoffs dispatching Indy Eleven and Bethlehem Steel with ease.
Louisville’s strongest asset is their attack. They have shown many times that despite not controlling the game they can be deadly on the counter. Cameron Lancaster has been a problem for NYRBII’s backline this season with 5 goals in two games against them including a hat trick at MSU Soccer Park. Ilija Illic is another forward who cause problems with his hold up play and scoring ability as well. Brain Ownby scored twice against Bethlehem last weekend and George Davis IV presents a danger with his speed and skill on the right side.
In the midfield Niall McCabe has put in great performances during the first two rounds and even contributed with two goals against Indy Eleven. It will be interesting to see how McCabe and captain Paolo Del Piccolo perform against NYRBII’s press because like the first two games it could play a big part in the outcome.
Louisville City’s backline like NYRBII’s has been stout of late as they have only allowed a single goal in their 2 playoff matches. This will be a much different defense than NYRBII saw in the first two games against them. Alexis Souahy and Paco Craig have done well as a center back pairing, while Kyle Smith has been excellent at right back. Oscar Jimenez provided two assists in the 4-1 win against Indy Eleven and he and Smith can create chances for the forwards when given the opportunity.
The Bottom Line
Both teams know each other so well and it’s no surprise the last two Eastern Conference Finals have gone to penalty kicks. The two contests during the regular season were wide open games that presented a lot of chances for both sides. NYRBII will have to remain disciplined and not committ too many players forward. They must respect Louisville City’s attacking prowess much like they did FC Cincinnati’s last weekend. Both of these teams have shown in the playoffs why they are here. Expect another hard-fought game that should provide plenty of entertainment.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography