The New York Red Bulls II start their season in defense of the 2016 USL Cup at the Pittsburgh Riverhounds Saturday. With several players departing from last year’s squad, New York looked to add depth to a number of positions. The roster, released Thursday evening, is built from a mixture of academy players and graduates; MLS loanees, and team signings. So far, it is business as usual for the USL side.
Preview: NYRBII Open Season At Pittsburgh
New York heads into the season with high expectations. The Red Bulls steamrolled their competition last season, setting records for wins, goals scored, road wins, and goals conceded. Heading into 2017, the “baby” Bulls lost three of their most important players to senior team promotions, Ryan Meara, Aaron Long, and Derrick Etienne Jr.
Aaron Long, now a starter with the senior team, won USL Defensive Player of the Year honors for his stellar work. Replacing such an important cog on the backline would be difficult for any team. Adding to that difficulty, Long’s partner in crime last season, Zach Carroll, has also moved on from the team. Tim Schmoll, Hassan Ndam, Jordan Scarlett, and David Abidor are the first options in central defense.
In the net, Rafa Diaz takes over the starting role from Ryan Meara. Meara had a terrific season, winning two penalty shootouts on the way to USL Cup. Diaz started a number of games last year and showed well. NY thinks he is ready to step up to the starting spot, and this will be his first chance to show if he is up to the task.
Further up field, the Red Bulls will look largely the same. Florian Valot, and Vincent Bezecourt will continue to torment defenses, but newcomer Arun Basuljevic could be a player to keep an eye on. Basuljevic is another homegrown MLS loan for the team, and could factor into the team in a big way. Basuljevic plied his trade at Georgetown with fellow NY homegrown players Brandon Allen and Alex Muyl. In all three seasons with the Hoya’s, Basuljevic finished top 3 in scoring.
Brandon Allen will be returning to the ‘B’ team this year. He is already the Red Bulls II all-time leading scorer, and he will look to bolster those numbers in 2017. Allen will need to focus this year on becoming a more well rounded player. It is clear that Allen is a great goal poacher, but he will need to learn to distribute and hold the ball better if he is to make the leap to the senior team.
Pittsburgh is also a team in transition. Boasting a brand new goalkeeper and backline, the Riverhounds are forced to hit the ground running. Last year, Pittsburgh finished two points ahead of bottom-dweller defunct FC Montreal. Their 50 goals conceded meant they were fourth from the bottom in the Eastern Conference. With Zach Steffan departing for Columbus, it will be up to Keasel Broome or Trey Mitchell to ease the burden placed on the Riverhounds’ offense.
Corey Hertzog returns to the team after producing double-digit goals last season. The former Red Bull draft pick scored 13 goals, a career-high, in 2016. Hertzog drove the offense as the rest of the team only contributed 18 goals. The pick up of midfielders Bryan Arguez, Victor Souto, Marshall Hollingsworth, and Ben Swanson, should help generate more for Hertzog and Kevin Kerr.
The Red Bulls will need to minimize mistakes in the midfield to keep Pittsburg’s speedy attack from breaking out. They must also manage to break down a physical and compact team. With just enough lineup consistency heading into the season, the young Bulls should be able to see the Riverhounds off on the road.