On Friday night, the New York Red Bulls II hosted Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC at MSU Soccer Park. The Baby Red Bulls were very eager to defend their 'fortress' and to avoid their third-straight loss against Pittsburgh, this season.
Pittsburgh’s Alex Dixon gave the Riverhounds an early lead, when he beat goalkeeper A.J. Marcucci in the tenth minute. However, the Red Bulls tied it up thanks to striker Omar Sowe, who scored his fourth goal of the year, which leads the team.
As has been customary with the Red Bulls' second-team, midfielders from the first-team Cameron Harper, Florian Valot and defender Jason Pendant started against Pittsburgh at home.
Mandela Egbo and Emir Tombul are usually the team's starting center-backs, but had to sit this one out. 'Manny' was called up to the first-team on July 8 and Tombul received a straight Red card in the Red Bulls' most recent game, prior to Friday night. This forced Red Bulls II Coach to make an adjustment to his starting eleven. That included starting Joey Zalinsky and Kyle Zajec as center-backs, Zajec's first start at that position and Zalinsky's fourth.
First Half Summary
The Red Bulls II nearly took the lead in the eighth minute, after Jeremy Rafanello earned a free kick 25 yards from goal.Rafanello curled a low free kick that had Pitsburgh's goalkeeper, Daniel Vitiello beat, but hit the woodwork and bounced away from danger.
The Riverhounds took the lead one minute after the Red Bulls II's dangerous free kick. Pittsburgh Midfielder Alex Dixon dribbled all the way to the edge of the Baby Red Bulls' box. He shifted the ball onto his left-foot, where he released a quick shot that surprised goalkeeper, AJ Marcucci and deflected off his mitts and into the twine, to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead.
Goal-mar Strikes Again
While the Red Bulls II might've started this game off slowly, they would find their legs shortly after. In the 27th minute, Pittsburgh midfielder Todd Wharton gave the ball away to Florian Valot, who passed calmly to Red Bulls II midfielder Jake LaCava. LaCava then played a through-ball in for Omar Sowe who scored one-on-one with the goalkeeper to bring the Baby Red Bulls level.
— New York Red Bulls II (@NYRBII) July 23, 2021
The Red Bulls II top goalscorer from 2020, is now leading his team's offense again with four goals on the season. The Harrison, New Jersey-native has scored in three consecutive games for the first time in his career and looks to be headed for continued success, after a poor start.
Second Half Events
The first half may have ended tied, but Pittsburgh are the second-place team in the USL Championship's Atlantic Division. Red Bulls' defense looked lazy on Pittsburgh's second goal. A giveaway to the Riverhounds left Russell Cicerone, one-on-one with New York's goalkeeper. Then, the visitors tacked on another goal thanks to an opportunistic doorstep tap-in on a low cross by Albert Lega.
In the 60th minute, Red Bulls II's midfielder Florian Valot connected on a cool one-two passing play with a teammate. He got the pass back and made a nifty pass all the way up to the opponent's 18 yard box. Valot found LaCava who received it and found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but Vitiello made a lucky save with, apparently, his left foot.
Postgame Comments from Red Bulls
Wittily, John Wolyniec on his counterpart on the sidelines said "Bob Lilley should write a book on how to win a game 1-0 and score in the first ten minutes." Coach added that even though the start was bad, his team's "response was good," here's how he characterized the spirit his squad showed on Friday against their arch-nemeses.
Between 10 and 40 minutes [into the game] We were very good. We put some good plays together and forced the goalkeeper to make some saves and got ourselves back into the game," Wolyniec said. "Omar [Sowe] scores a great goal and, going into halftime, we felt pretty good." - Coach Wolyniec
Omar Sowe scored his team's only goal of the match and will ride a three-game scoring streak into Sacramento. Sowe started off this year with just one goal in his first ten matches, but has improved as the season has worn on. He described what his maturation process has been like.
My dad lets me know, 'don't worry about the goals, it's about how you perform'", Sowe said. "I've matured because I've realized that team success leads to individual success. That's what we've all realized [as we've had] a turn-around during the last three matches. - Omar Sowe
Sowe also elaborated on how he and his teammates can continue to learn and how they should make adjustments to their individual mentalities heading into the second half of the 2021 season.
"You can play the best game of your life and not get a goal, or play the worst game of your life, score the winning goal and everybody loves you, that's just football. That's that side of it, but we'll keep training and hopefully we'll start banging in some goals." - Omar Sowe
The Red Bulls II had some bright moments against Pittsburgh, just their defense let them down. The bright spots included winning the possession battle (54%-46%) and being one shy of tying the second-place team in USL Championship's Atlantic Division for shots-taken and shots-on goal (10-11). The Red Bulls II's next game will be in California, where they will face Sacramento Republic FC. That game will be available at 11:00 PM EST for streaming on ESPN Plus.