by Andrew Garda
Montclair—On a humid Saturday afternoon, the New York Red Bulls II (6-7-3) broke a two-game losing streak by edging the St. Louis Football Club (4-6-3), 1-0. Forward Brandon Allen slipped the ball past St. Louis keeper Adam Grinwis in the 26th minute of the game to give New York the lead, one it never relinquished.
The scoring chance came off a free kick by midfielder Vincent Bezecourt, which Grinwis struggled to handle. Allen found himself alone in front of the net, with the ball at his feet and no defender in sight and was able to get it past a diving Grinwis.
The rest of the match was a back-and-forth affair with both teams trading chances, but neither finding the back of the net again.
New York played very good defense early on, but St. Louis surged coming out of halftime, nearly tying the game several times. Some of the defensive struggles could be laid at the feet of an oppressive heat, but it may also have had to do with the absence of defender Hasaan Ndam, who exited the game at the half with an injured ankle.
Head Coach John Wolyniec said after the game that Ndam might have been able to play through this injury, but the staff decided to keep him out.
“My perspective always is, let’s be around the side of caution, make sure we’re not hurting worse,” Wolyniec said. “If he’s vulnerable, there’s no reason to put him out there.”
The team will have to see how Ndam’s ankle holds up as it heads toward a July 9 game at Bethlehem Steel Football Club.
One thing that certainly helped the team was a strong outing by goalkeeper Rafael Diaz. While St. Louis’ best chance to score was actually stymied by a goalpost, not Diaz, the keeper’s game was very strong throughout the 90-plus minutes.
Also notable were the frequent yellow cards issued to New York throughout the game. Midfielders Ethan Kutler and Arun Basuljevic were both issued cards on what appeared to be inadvertent collisions, and Allen got one early in the second half during a battle for the ball in front of the net.
In the past, that sort of thing would have sent the squad into a spiral, as they became more and more frustrated throughout the game. On Saturday, however, New York kept its poise.
Diaz said that’s been a focus in meetings and during practices.
“That’s obviously a concern of ours,” Diaz explained. “We’ve done it in the past and we keep harping that we can’t be that same team, we have to make adjustments and that’s one of the adjustments we had.”
The weather and the calls can’t be excuses, Diaz continued.
“Yeah, it’s hot, but both teams played with the heat and we just have to keep going and stay focused. The most important thing is to stay focused. It’s easy, when it’s that hot, to shut down or take a couple plays off but we knew that we have to really stay focused to grind this one out.”
Defender Jordan Scarlett agreed and added that it’s Wolyniec’s steady hand which really has helped.
“Coach [Wolyniec], he tells us to let him deal with the referee,” Scarlett said after the game. “If the referee makes a bad call, he’s not going to reverse it, so keep playing, keep fighting, let the referee deal with [the coaches]. I think that’s him just stamping that into us, that was the key.”
The club will practice this week and then head to Pennsylvania to take on Bethlehem Steel FC.