by Andrew Garda
Pittser Field—The New York Red Bulls II (6-10-3) already had their work cut out for them when they welcomed the Charlotte Independence (9-3-4) to Montclair State. The Independence are red hot, having won their last five games in a row, including a win that contained the club’s first ever hat trick, scored by Jorge Herrera in a win over Saint Louis FC.
Add in the fact that when the two teams met in Charlotte on May 11, the Independence clobbered the Red Bulls II by a score of 5-1 and you could forgive New York if they felt some trepidation.
That concern seemed to bear itself out when New York found itself down 2-0 at the half, only to stumble immediately out of the gate when midfielder Enzo Martinez found the back of the net off a pass from Herrera in the 53rd minute.
Often throughout the season, the Red Bulls II have had a tendency to hang their heads and struggle when the game went against them. In a match like this, against a team as strong as Charlotte, a three-goal deficit would normally be just the sort of thing to send their game into a tailspin.
Could another 5-1 blowout be in the offing?
Not on Saturday.
While the Independence seemed to throttle back on offense, content with their three-goal lead, New York pressed them. In the very early moments of the first half, the Red Bulls II had done a great job of creating offensive opportunities, but never seemed to be able to get the ball home.
After the third goal by Charlotte, New York again brought pressure but this time found a way to score and claw its way back into the match.
First, in the 82nd minute of the game, defender David Najem sent a kick off his left foot, getting the ball past Charlotte goalie Cody Mizell to make the score 3-1.
That first goal kicked off a flurry of chances for the Red Bulls II, as they seemed re-energized by it. The Independence seemed like they were too far back on their heels, and frantically tried to turn the momentum back in their favor.
Just two minutes later, midfielder Vincent Bezecourt took a corner kick and fired the ball across the middle. Forward Junior Flemmings redirected the kick into the goal with a nice header.
Mizell did all he could to keep the ball from crossing the goal line, but could only make a play on it when it was too late.
New York kept fighting, attacking the net and generating turnovers when Charlotte had the ball. However, Charlotte isn’t second in the Eastern Conference for nothing, and they slowly re-asserted themselves defensively and began to do a good job killing the clock.
Despite four minutes of stoppage time, the Red Bulls II couldn’t get a clear shot at the net again, and Charlotte was able to cling to that one goal lead until the final whistle.
While the result certainly wasn’t what the club wanted, Najem felt the surge in the second half was promising.
“Being down 3-0, we didn’t hang our heads. Towards the end, we kept fighting and we can build on that,” he said after the game.
Positives aside, both Najem and head coach John Wolyniec feel the club has to stop making early mistakes.
“I think the first thing we have to do is find way not to dig ourselves into holes early in the game,” Najem said. “If we figure that out, we definitely have the resiliency to fight back and that’s a good characteristic to have as a team.”
“You can always see positives and negatives,” Wolyniec said. “The negative is we seem to keep making mistakes. The positive is that we keep fighting and we always seem to have better second halves. Some of that is due to us going down and the other team being content to be ahead, but we keep fighting and we saw some of that today.”
The Red Bulls II are going to have to figure it out soon. While there are still plenty of games left in the regular season, the team finds itself in a fistfight for a playoff spot. Their 21 points is just short of a slot and they’re among seven teams vying for the last three spots.
But for Wolyniec, it’s not just about the points.
“We need points and we got to find a way to get points. [But] I’m more concerned with us getting better and not making mistakes, and learning as we go. I’m more concerned with a little bit of plateauing in the development than points.”
The Red Bulls get another chance for a home win this Friday against Toronto FC II at 7 p.m.