After two consecutive matches where Harrisburg struggled to generate much offense, they came out swinging during their second visit to the New York Red Bulls II. The City Islanders defense however gave up an uncharacteristic three goals, and that proved to be too big of a deficit to overcome.
The worries about Aaron Wheeler’s health after he was subbed out early at Pittsburgh turned out to be unfounded. Wheeler had recovered enough to start at forward, flanked by Johnny Mendoza and Cardel Benbow. There was also a shake up in the midfield, with Jamaican Paul Wilson returning to the starting eleven alongside Mohammad Dabo, making his second start of the season, and Rasheed Olabiyi. The defense was missing two players due to suspension, but coach Bill Becher addressed this by moving Jaime Thomas over to left back and starting Shawn Mclaws on the right side. Nick Noble started in the place of the suspended Brandon Miller.
Both sides started strong with good chances out of the gate. Benbow put a shot on goal in the 12th minute for Harrisburg, a significant improvement over last week in Pittsburgh where they didn’t manage a shot on goal the entire first half. In addition, each side saw an attacker go down in the box after contact. The benches were screaming for a penalty each time, but referee Henrik Karlsson didn’t feel that a foul had occurred on either occasion.
That changed in the 25th minute, when David Najem sent a lob to Brandon Allen in front of the Harrisburg net. Goalkeeper Nick Noble went out for a punch and connected with more of Allen’s temple than he did with the ball. Noble would see yellow for the blow, and Allen was awarded the PK. Noble dove left and Allen converted with a soft shot to Noble’s right, putting NYRBII up 1-0.
Harrisburg didn’t let the early deficit get them down and they continued to apply the offensive pressure. The aggressive play lead to Thomas and Wheeler getting some hard shots in. The Islanders were also able to put some crosses through the Red Bulls box, but they couldn’t find an open man to finish.
The pressure paid off in the 39th minute when Harrisburg was awarded a corner off of a deflection forced by Aaron Wheeler. Johnny Mendoza handled the kick, and he sent a hard, near post shot straight to Wheeler’s head. He was able to drive the header into the top far corner and level the score.
The Red Bulls wasted no time turning up the pressure when they returned to the field after the half, and Nick Noble was called upon to make several big saves to turn away the Red Bulls offense. This added pressure lead to another error by the Harrisburg defense as Jaime Thomas fouled Zeiko Lewis inside the box, leading to another New York PK. Brandon Allen stepped up again and put a hard, straight shot past a diving Nick Noble to put Red Bulls up 2-1.
Even after going down a goal for the second time, Harrisburg didn’t back down. Wheeler continued to look for an opening up top, and Cardel Benbow used his speed to get open on the edge. But the Red Bulls defense stood strong and goalkeeper Evan Louro was able to collect the balls directed his way.
Highly touted NYRBII prospect Douglas Martinez, back from action with the Honduras U20s, made his debut as a sub for Brandon Allen in the 75th minute. He showed his potential quickly, as he buried a cross from Justin Bilyeu in the 79th minute to put the Red Bulls up by two.
Harrisburg couldn’t seem to find an answer down two with only about ten minutes to play. The Islanders earned a free kick at the edge of the box in the 81st minute, but the chance was turned away. Ghanaian Ropapa Mensah was subbed in at the 87th minute, but he never got a chance to develop any scoring opportunities. The final whistle blew with the score still 3-1 in favor of the NYRBII.
Harrisburg will be back in action next Saturday the 13th at 7:00pm as they travel to Richmond for the second time this season. NYRBII will also be traveling as they face the Charlotte Independence on Thursday the 11th at 7:00pm.
- Wheeler’s goal was his second of the season, making him the only Islander with more than one goal so far in 2017. As the season goes on, it’ll be interesting to see if one player emerges as the biggest offensive threat, or if they continue to spread the ball around.
- Harrisburg has seen their fair share of tight games in 2017. This was the first match of the season that wasn’t decided by a single goal (excluding their draw against Orlando).
- This was a home match of sorts for City Islander Mike Olla who came on for Cardel Benbow in the 72nd minute. He played soccer for Montclair State University from 2013 to 2016.