Red Bulls II to Face Rio Grande Valley FC on Friday Night

On Good Friday at 7:00 PM, the New York Red Bulls II will look to snap a three-game losing streak at home against Rio Grande Valley FC Toros.

On Friday, manager Gary Lewis and his Baby Bulls team will be looking to earn their second win of the 2021 United Soccer League (USL) Championship season at MSU Soccer Park on the campus of Montclair State University.

On Friday, the Baby Bulls will square off with Rio Grande Valley FC. Their foes from Texas will be the first western conference opponent that the Red Bulls II will play this season. Both teams' logos feature the Bull on it and based on their positions in the standings, each will be hungry for victory.

A Rocky Start to the Season

It has been a whole month since the Red Bulls II won on Mar. 16 and on that day the Baby Bulls defeated Atlanta United II 1-0 on the road with ten men. It was an impressive result for a new manager who will rotate through about 20 players this season including O'Vonte Mullings, the standout forward from Florida Gulf Coast University who was the Red Bulls' first-round pick at the 2022 MLS Super Draft.

This is Lewis's first season coaching the Red Bulls' USL team and here's what Lewis who coached youth teams with the Premier League's Everton FC in the past had to say about where the Red Bulls II team he's coaching now, stands five games into the 2022 USLC season.

In terms of where we're at right now, it's just important that we keep eleven players on the field, I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life, to have four red cards on the bounce and it’s affected everything about the way we play, and it’s affected the results. When you look at the games that we’ve had [red cards] in, we were playing very well against Loudoun and Atlanta, we won the game anyway.

Coach Lewis mentioned his team played very well against on Mar. 19 against Loudoun and Apr. 2 against Tulsa. The latter game, veteran midfielder, Jeremy Rafanello scored the game's first goal, a forceful right-footed shot that went into the upper right corner of the net for the 22-year-old's first of the season.

Midfielder and Red Bulls II captain John Murphy, from Scotch Plains, scored his first goal of the season late in the second half of the last game. Every fan knows that the primary goal of USL teams is developing their players into Major League Soccer professionals. So, it would be easy for managers to not care about winning but Gary Lewis has coached academy teams for two decades, beginning with Liverpool F.C.'s youth teams and he knows better.

Firstly, we try to win every Saturday, it's not like we're just looking at player development and if you accumulate enough points you make the playoffs--that's been our focus...Then you just keep breaking it down, you break that down to a Saturday or Friday...We break that down into every day and how we prepare for that that’s all we can do each week.

Recent Takeaways for Red Bulls II

The last game that New York played was in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have made a nearly 2,000 mile journey back to New Jersey where they will face off against a team that's done some traveling themselves. In Tulsa, the Red Bulls II lost a close game even though their number-one goalkeeper from Georgetown University had been sent off and they played with ten men. 

Giannis Nikopolidis may have been Coach Lewis's first choice between the sticks in Tulsa but that may not be the case for much longer. The reason being that the goalkeeper who was substituted into the match, Derrek Chan made seven saves in his debut which broke the record for a Red Bulls II goalkeeper making his debut that dates back to the team's inaugural 2015 USL Championship season.

Chan signed with the Red Bulls II after preseason training had started on March third. He is 23 years old and has joined the Red Bulls organization after four years with the University of California - Davis men's soccer team who he had four shutouts with in 2021.

The jump from college to the pros can, sometimes, be too big a jump for some players to make but Chan can be comforted by the fact that two of his teammates are in the same boat. In fact, Chan is one of three Baby Bulls who are transitioning from college soccer; O'Vonte Mullings played four years at the Florida Gulf Coast University before signing as did Jonathan Filipe, who has joined the Red Bulls II from Fairfield University in Connecticut this season.

 Chan described how his transition from college to the USL Championship has been.

In terms of gameplay, it's a jump for all college players, just the speed, the power, the
athleticism and the IQ of players, that’s always higher. It’s not something that was like shocking--it wasn’t hard to learn and adjust and be able to get there. One thing that definitely stood out was the professionalism, learning to be a professional, learning to be a great teammate and understanding your role as a professional, is much different than being a college student-athlete. - Derrek Chan

 The new shot-stopper, Derrek Chan described what his first impression of the Red Bull organization have been, after spending his first six weeks training with this USL Championship side.

I appreciate and feel so blessed to be here because from my experience of being with other USL or even MLS teams, I’ve never been with a club that supports their players so much and develops them so well. I feel like the transition from Red Bulls II to the MLS side is seamless. We have a great coaching staff, Jeremy [Proud], Jyri [Nieminen], Gary [Lewis], Sammy [Castellanos], they’re unbelievable... it’s just an unbelievable place to be. - Derrek Chan

What wonderful comments from Chan who has been on 'Cloud Nine' since his strong debut. Nikopolidis will be unavailable on Friday because of the red card he earned in Red Bulls II's last game so fans will have the chance to see Chan make his second start in net for the New York Red Bulls II tomorrow night. Those who are interested in attending the match can expect great seating options close to the field of play.

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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.