Match: Bethlehem Steel FC vs New York Red Bull II
Time: 5 p.m. EST
How to watch: Live in person at Goodman Stadium or on ESPN+
Steel all time vs RBII: 2-3-0 (1-2 in Lehigh, last meeting 2-0 win for Steel on July 9th)
How Red Bull should look:
So far the baby bulls have been consistently getting results, but not ones you’d expect. Unbeaten in seven matches now, New York has hung five goals on Charleston and Tampa Bay, winning both of those matches soundly in somewhat surprising fashion. On the other hand, dropping points to Richmond, Ottawa and LA Galaxy II probably wasn’t in the cards for John Wolyniec’s side. They currently sit in sixth place in the east, and should command a playoff spot this year, but dropping points to some weaker competition might be troubling. Much like the last two years, RBII are filled with promising youngsters as well as the next wave of NYRB first teamers. Ben Mines has been exciting to watch, and of course there’s always a chance of seeing Florian Valot, Vincent Bezecourt or Andrew Tinari in the mix. Defensively they are anchored by Hassan Ndam and usually have Evan Louro in net. Steel have been awkward customers for RBII, and these games have never been incredibly pretty but look for the visitors to drag this one into a shootout.
How Steel should look:
MLS heavy probably. Out of the 23 given out before the match, 10 guys are first team contracted. It’ll probably be John McCarthy in net with Jake McGuire backing him up, though that second goalkeeper spot could also go to Tomas Romero depending. Cory Burke (with no “e” in Cory, thank you) will certainly start after his goal and subsequent red card for the Union in Montreal (Jim Curtin said as much in his press conference Wednesday). Adam Najem will look to burn his former club as he is prone to do, but I don’t necessarily think Brandon Allen is the first guy off the bench for narrative sake. Aidan Apodaca seems to do more defensively as well as create more chances for himself in this system. Not to mention he got the start against Charleston last weekend anyway.
Elsewhere, it’ll be interesting to see where Eric Ayuk is used as his ongoing experiment at full back is probably still up in the air. Ayuk gets forward tremendously well, which is great in this system, but he often leaves that side of the field vacated defensively, forcing his center backs to stretch out and cover. Still no James Chambers or Omar Holness so expect Derrick Jones and Drew Skundrich in the middle of the park. Drew has looked sharp the last few weeks and I imagine he’ll try and push for that goal here against Red Bull. If Steel can really push for results at home and start this crucial three-game sprint (NYRBII, Indy XI, OTT) on a winning note, they could go for all nine points this week.
-If/when he starts Olivier Mbaizo has looked like a man among boys at times out there. The Bethlehem back line got stretched pretty badly by Charleston so look for them to try and stay more organized, especially at home.
-RBII head coach John Wolyniec who is returning to coach RBII this week after a week off to spend time with his newborn son, so congrats and best wishes on that front coach!
-Sure RBII are unbeaten in seven, which is a big deal, but they haven’t scored multiple goals often. Taking a sample size of their last four games, they’ve only scored twice (once against Nashville and once against Los Dos) and kept off the score sheet entirely twice as well. For a team with the reputation and ability to go out and light other teams up, their lack of offense this last month is puzzling for them and probably encouraging for opponents.
-Bethlehem fielded nine MLS contracted players earlier this season, which was a club record. Especially against Red Bull and especially because RBII can do the exact same thing, that record might be tied here. I wouldn’t put it past these two clubs to almost play an MLS match in USL which should be entertaining if not frustrating for USL purists out there.