Harrisburg finished the first half of the 2017 season with only sixteen points, thanks largely to a ten match winless stretch they endured between April and June. It was clear that they would need to make big improvements in the second half if they hoped to push for a playoff spot. Fortunately the City Islanders got the second half of their season off to a good start courtesy of a 2-0 victory over a depleted NYRB II side.
The Baby Bulls kept a lot of talent back home, only suiting up fourteen players for the match. Brandon Allen was not with the squad, possibly due to rumors that he’s about to be loaned to Minnesota United FC. Vincent Bezecourt was also missing because he was being saved for the Red Bulls Open Cup match against New England.
Harrisburg kept a few in reserve as well since they’ll be playing three matches at FNB field in seven days. Regular starters Rasheed Olabiyi and Lee Nishanian were kept off along with recent playmaker Jake Bond. As expected, Pedro Ribeiro wasn’t able to play after his leg injury in Rochester, so Ropapa Mensah got his first start for the City Islanders up top.
Harrisburg took the initiative in the first half, getting a shot on goal almost immediately. Jamie Thomas had the second opportunity in the 2nd minute with a nifty bicycle kick, but that one went off target. On the other end of the field, Brandon Miller was called on to make a big stop on Douglas Martinez in the 9th minute, denying what would be New York’s best opportunity in the half.
With the City Islanders demonstrating superior speed and maneuverability, it was only a matter of time before the broke the deadlock. Harrisburg’s opportunity finally knocked in the 20th minute. Cardel Benbow forced a turnover before speeding up the left side. He then slipped a beautiful pass to Mensah (nutmegging defender Tim Schmoll in the process). Mensah’s first shot was saved by New York keeper Rafael Diaz, as was his second. But that rebound fell to the feet of Jaime Thomas, who calmly finished with his left foot to put Harrisburg up 1-0.
Not content with one goal, Harrisburg maintained the pressure. Paul Wilson nearly scored in the 39th minute by lofting a shot over the keeper, but Diaz did an excellent job to tap it over the bar. Watch for that one on the USL save of the week recaps. He wasn’t so lucky in the 41st minute when Wilson made a breakaway and had Diaz one-on-one. Diaz tried to come off his line, but Wilson slotted it past him to extend the lead to two.
New York settled down some after the half and they were able to develop some chances. But they didn’t get many good looks, and Miller was able to easily collect most of the balls that came his way. This changed around the 70th minute when New York was able to earn a corner. The try wasn’t well defended, and Miller was barely able to tip the ball over the bar for another corner. The second one bounced around dangerously, but was eventually cleared out.
After these chances, New York seized the initiative for the remainder of the match. They maintained the majority of the possession as they tried to find some way to get a goal on the board. Harrisburg pulled men back on defense and sent the ball wide on counter attacks to use up time. This seemed to throw the Red Bulls off their game as they made several turnovers as the seconds ticked away. The whistle finally blew after four minutes of stoppage, giving the City Islanders their third win in four matches.
- Harrisburg only managed to gather seven points from their matches at FNB field last year (partially due to splitting time between Harrisburg and Lancaster). They’ve already managed to collect twelve points at home this season. This is especially good news when you consider that Harrisburg has five matches at home in September.
- Ropapa Mensah was narrowly denied his first USL goal, but he still showed up on the match reports courtesy of his excellent assist on Wilson’s goal. With Wheeler and Ribeiro battling injuries, Harrisburg is certainly hoping that this level of production can continue.
- As the season has gone on, Harrisburg left back Abass Mohamed has shown a proficiency with the long ball. His deep pass helped set up the night’s second goal and it helped generate other opportunities as well. It’s a good skill to have on the field. Look to see more of it going forward.