After playing one game, a March 7 loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the season came screeching to a halt. The USL Championship suspended the season on March 12. It is now July and despite the country looking to be in just as bad of a position as when they suspended, USL is determined to return. While some markets are flirting with the idea of having fans that will not be the case for the Red Bulls who will being playing behind closed doors at Red Bull Arena instead of their normal home of MSU Soccer Park. We hopped on the app that absolutely no one is tired of, Zoom ,to talk to John Wolyniec in an exclusive interview with Red Bull Hub.
What to Expect
This upcoming USL season will see the teams face a regional schedule in order to reduce travel and time spent in hotels. What this will looks like is a bunch of groups who will essentially play an extended group stage tournament with the top team advancing to a playoff. Each team will also play one game out of region with Red Bulls set to play Atlanta United 2. The Red Bulls’ group includes the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Hartford Athletic, Philadelphia Union 2 and Loudoun United, the reserve team for DC United. Coach John Wolyniec had this to say about the restart:
“I’m just glad that we have games and that we’re able to put a substantial amount of games together for our guys to be able to test themselves and push themselves to get better.”
In addition to a limited slate of opponents, USL will be allowing 5 subs this season. This is a great opportunity for young players to get minutes as well as protect the squad.
“I like the fact that we can use five subs. think that’s a smart move by the league… Did we really fully prepare these guys physically to get into, you know, 90 minute games in a real season? You know, not totally sure. But with the flip side of that certainly helps us to, you know, be smart about them and protect them but also to allow the game to stay at a high level even even though guys have been, you know, without games for a number of month”John Wolyniec on the introduction of five substitutions to USL Championship.
Three games against everyone in the group will lead to a lot of familiarity and should really challenge the coaches to adjust game plans. USL is a league that is hard to predict as it changes so much year to year. Pittsburgh Riverhounds will have to be considered one of the favorites. The Riverhounds are always a tough opponent lead by Bob Lilley who has challenged John Wolyniec from the inception of NYRB II. Getting to play them twice at home could be a big advantage. Hartford have a new coach and a partnership with Southampton now, so expect them to be much improved from a year ago. Loudoun and Philly are similar as they are both USL reserve teams who struggled last year, they will have depth tested with their respective first teams away. They still have a lot of good talent on the roster and while they will be weaker can’t be overlooked.
As things stand, the graphic above highlights who New York Red Bulls II have under contract. It is possible to see an addition or two, however the depth will come from the academy.
“No, I think right now we feel pretty good. So, you know, there’s always talk about a player too, but right now we feel pretty good.”John Wolyniec when asked about his squad’s depth.
Tactically a 4-2-2-2 or 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 is most likely to be the formation and the current roster offers some flexibility with different attacking pieces. The depth will be really tested on the backline where they will be thin until the MLS team returns from Orlando.
One person who has benefited from this time off is right back Edgardo Rito. At the start of the season Rito was not fit to play as he was recovering from a nasty ankle injury. With the delay in games he wasn’t able to get all the care that he may have needed but he did get plenty of time to continue to heal. This is a big boost as NYRBII have very limited depth at outside back. While Rito is not 100% he is very close. It’s not clear yet if he will be ready for the 17th but at the time of the interview it was too soon to tell.
“He looks really good and physically, he’s doing well, you know, he still has some mysteries with the injury as far as swelling and scar tissue and these type of things, but for the most part, he’s he’s been full training and you know, he, he tells us he’s not quite 100% but we tell him sometimes he looks like it so it’s we’re glad in a way that that break helped him”
Another addition since the season started is Jake LaCava. LaCava was on the roster as an academy player at the start of the season however now he has signed a professional deal with the club. LaCava is a well traveled midfielder who can play on the left and the right. He has spent time with Barca Academy and LA Galaxy Academy as well as having trials in Europe.
“We like his pace, his power, the fact he can go right or left. He can set up goals, he can score goals, you can play through him. He’s got a good mix of intelligence, physical qualities and technical qualities. He’s looked really good to be honest the last couple of weeks, so I don’t know if that’s a signing a contract bump or whatever, but we’re excited about him.”John Wolyniec on the addition of Jake LaCava to the New York Red Bulls II squad.
Call in the Academy
When NYRB II need depth they look to one place and that is the academy. Sources tell us a sizeable group of academy players have been in training and with such a small pro roster and the first team away, they will be counted on. It is not clear how many of these kids will feature and how many are for numbers in practice.
Our sources have told us that 2003’s Joey Zalinsky, Tapwia Shumba, Roald Mitchell, Andrew Noel, Bo Cummins, Ty Walker and Daniel Edelman have been in training. Edelman is a noted inclusion as it confirms that he has officially joined the Red Bulls Academy from Players Development Academy. Edelman is a United States Under-16 international who has done well early on. He is a hybrid 6 or 8 and is someone who is likely to feature early on.
We also have been told that 2004 prospects Dantouma ‘Yaya’ Toure, Kenny Hot and Ciaran Dalton have been training as well. Both are top prospects and should be included sooner rather than later. Look for John Wolyniec to take advantage of Toure’s pace as a weapon late in games off the bench. Hot will challenge the likes of Edelman, Sharifi and Zajec for minutes at the 6 and 8 depending on the formation.
This has been a weird year for sports around the world. With a truncated season it would be easy to say just throw in the kids and get them all the minutes they can. It would be easy to chalk up a bad season to COVID-19. However, that has never been the philosophy of New York Red Bulls II. For John Wolyniec the expectation is to win as, after all, the players are competitors, it’s what they want as well. While all teams say this they don’t always show it with their actions on the field and the lineups they put out. So why with the shortened season is NYRBII adopting the idea of putting winning on the back burner? In short winning must be developed as well.
“I’m gonna treat them as any other game and we hope that our players do that as well because, you know, when you say some other teams just throw young guys out there whatever, we don’t we don’t think like that. We think we have to prepare, we’re not just throwing young players out there because they have potential we’re putting players out there that deserve it and that want to win an MLS Cup. So even though they’re in USL now, you know, the goal is to win an MLS Cup, so they have to be well versed in knowing how to win so it’s nice to challenge young guys and put them up”
This philosophy has brought success in player development and on match days. It teaches players the importance of fighting for their spots and kills any sort of complacency that could set in. So while John Wolyniec may not get caught up in the standings the expectation is clear.