The hot start for New York Red Bulls II continued on Wednesday as they defeated Hartford Athletic and moved into first place in the Eastern Conference. Let’s look at some of the talking points from the game.
A Strong Second Half
A midweek match against a struggling team after a hard fought road win in Charlotte, with a heavily rotated squad. This had the makings to be a trap game for NYRB II, and in the first half Hartford did a good job of denying the “baby bulls” opportunities in addition to getting some good chances of their own.
However, the second half became a different story, and Jared Stroud’s chip over Hartford keeper Jon Kempin gave NYRB II the momentum the team needed.
“I think in the first half we just came out a little slow to be honest,” Stroud said. “They were coming out obviously they haven’t won a game. So for us, I think we started too slow and we were able to look in the mirror and say we started slow and in the second half we realized we had to pick it up.”
Tom Barlow continued his scintillating form with another goal off an impressive counter attack by NYRB II. Derrick Etienne Jr. and Chris Lema added goals later on to put the game beyond reach.
The team has scored 13 goals on the season, the most in the Eastern Conference. Stroud talked about what has made them so dangerous early on.
“Some of it is just the way we play,” Stroud said. “We play forward, we play fast, and I think Tom’s been really good this year and he’s obviously put away all his chances. He’s been running behind really well and finding good spots. As a team we put forward a lot. We’ve made good plays and we’ve got a forward on a really hot streak so I think it’s just putting the ball to him and then putting the ball to the guys and taking chances.”
First Clean Sheet of the Year
Despite not having two of their usual starting defenders in the team, NYRB II came away with their first clean sheet of the season in this game. Sure, Hartford had only managed 3 goals in 6 games coming into the match on Wednesday, but this is big for the defense.
The pairing of Sean Nealis and Preston Kilwien were solid on the night in the central defense. Both were able to deny Hartford a lot of big chances. Kyle Zajac and and Chris Lema were able to dictate the midfield for long stretches of the game as well.
Manager John Wolyniec praised the Kilwien and Zajac for their strong play in their first professional starts for NYRB II.
“Kilwein did very well and I’m really happy with him,” Wolyniec said. “It’s not easy to play center back for us. For him to get his first start and first shutout is good. Zajec did well tonight, he was very good. We ended up taking him off, hopefully to save him a little bit for Saturday.”
On the outside both Edgar Rito and Kyle Duncan put in strong shifts as well. Both did well in joining the attack and completing a good percentage of their passes. Rito in particular had an impressive moment with a nice run and back heel to assist on Etienne’s goal.
Games like this will help boost the confidence of the backline going forward and if their strong play continues, NYRB II will find themselves near the top of the league.
Everyone knows about the USL Cup and three straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances, but it’s games like this that show how important John Wolyniec is to this club. Rotating players in from the first team and the academy isn’t as easy as it looks, but Wolyniec continues to be able to do it year in and out.
“It’s always tricky” Wolyniec said. “It’s kind of the life I’ve been living for the last few years. Credit to our players, credit to our club, we approached this in a pretty comprehensive way. I want to make sure that everybody knows that this is important, to value it and we’re going to judge you on the game, but also that you have an opportunity to play. Whether you’re first team guy, second team guy or an academy guy. “
Wolyniec praised the culture of the club from the top of it down and said that is what makes the transition much easier for the players.
“I feel like the culture here, set from Denis and Chris, all the way down is really good, ” Wolyniec said. “It makes my job easy when guys are changing and stuff, to keep the style of play, or the philosophy of play, the tactics or whatever, all that stuff is pretty consistent from the top down. It makes it easy.”
The baby bulls are off to their best start in team history and although it’s early, Wolyniec has his team playing at a high level and they could be in store for more postseason success.
Photo by Juan M Pena, La Pelota Media