This Friday, the New York Red Bulls II will play the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC of the United Soccer League USL Championship for the third time. Caden Clark was in their lineup, during Red Bull II's last win against Pittsburgh at Red Bull Arena in July, 2020.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Red Bulls II are about as familiar with eachother as any professional team can be. Red Bull head coach, John Wolyniec is in his sixth season coaching in the USL, while Lilley is in his fourth.
In the Standings, these two teams have usually fought for position near the top, but this season, Red Bulls II are developing young talent. Red Bulls II's last game saw a lineup featuring five starters younger than 20 years old.
Hounds Climbing Standings
The Baby Red Bulls and Pittsburgh Riverhounds have always been close rivals. Since the 2019 USL Championship season, these old foes have played five games against each other that were decided by one goal. The only exception has been the 3-0 defeat Pittsburgh handed New York earlier this season, but game was closer to whitewater rafting than soccer because of heavy rain.
While the Red Bulls II have been going through growing pains and have a 3-4-6 (six ties) record heading into their next match, Riverhounds have a 7-3-4 record this year and are currently in second-place. Pittsburgh's defense has been stout as of late, having surrendered one goal in their last three matches. Riverhounds won their last match 1-0 against Loudoun United, the last-place team in the USLC's Atlantic Division.
The Red Bulls have played better soccer lately, as well. Their last match was a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Hartford Athletic (4th place) and before that, John Wolyniec's group earned a quality win over Charlotte Independence on the road.
Here is what the Baby Bulls manager had to say about a familiar foe, his team have up next: "Pitt's always a tough game for us, so it's going to be an important game," Wolyniec said. " We gained a little momentum in the last few games and, [our last game] didn't go off so, we're hoping we can use this game to reignite that momentum and keep at the very least the good performances going."
At their home field, the New York Red Bulls II have won just one game. That victory came recently on June 16 against Charlotte. Attacking midfielder, Jeremy Rafanello, who was signed this past offseason, had his first multi-goal performance in the Red Bulls II's only home win and will be looking to repeat that on Friday, which will not be easy.
We have young guys that are playing some of their first professional games, [and now] they've gotten used to the speed of play, the rigors of a season, and the 90 minutes of a professional game. - John Wolyniec
Omar Sowe is a 20-year-old striker, who has been playing with Red Bullls II since 2019. He is from Harrison, New Jersey, where he had a great career at the local high school. Last season, Omar led the team in goals with seven in about ten matches.
Omar went from May 18 to July 7 without a goal. Since ending his goalless drought, the young man from New Jersey has scored in each of his last two games. Primarily, he has been used as a second striker in a 4-4-2 formation, something that his coach says is becoming a more consistent style of play for Red Bull.
The Players Speak
During the 2021 Season, the Red Bulls II have spread the love around offensively. Four Baby Red Bulls have tallied this season, which ties them with FC Tulsa in the Southwest for the most goal-scoring range on a given team in USL Championship. Those players include the hot names like Jeremy Rafanello, who has many assists too and Jake LaCava.
Jake LaCava doesn't just rank second on the team with three goals, tied with a striker named Omar Sowe, he has been one of Red Bulls II's most durable and reliable players this season. The Connecticut-native, in his 2nd season in USLC, has played in 12 of his team's 13 games this season, 5 of which he has played the entire 90 minutes. That shows great endurance since LaCava's position requires him to run from the enemy box to his own defensive area, which is called a 'box-to-box midfielder' in soccer/football terminology.
LaCava was with the Red Bulls Academy before being signed to his second career contract, last summer. In 27 career matches for the Red Bulls II, LaCava has scored eight goals and 5 assists. So far this season, LaCava has been a key player in Coach Wolyniec's starting Eleven, night-in and night-out. Here is what he said about how it will feel for he and his teammates to get back on home turf, tomorrow.
We’re excited to be back home. It's been a long stretch away from home so we're excited to get back onto our home field in front of our fans. Not playing the last game has the team eager to go again and just kind of get back into our good form recently. - Red Bulls II Midfielder, Jake LaCava
Anthony graduated from Montclair State University, where he covered a variety of sports for three years. He co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on campus radio station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.