ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 24, 2017) — By all indications, Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Semifinal between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and New York Red Bulls II should be an entertaining one.
In two matches against one another this season, the teams have combined for an incredible 11 goals, with both teams winning their home game and losing on the road.
It’s indicative of how the defending USL Cup champions have played all season and how they managed a berth in the playoffs despite having a negative goal differential and more losses than wins.
Nine of New York’s 33 matches this season have seen five or more goals scored, with the Red Bulls posting a record of 2-1-6 (W-T-L) in those wild shootouts. Only five of the Rowdies’ matches totaled five or more goals.
While it’s impossible to know exactly how Saturday’s match will play out, it seems likely that the teams will line up in opposing 4-2-3-1 formations.
According to USL stats partner Opta, the Red Bulls have deployed a 4-2-3-1 in 28 of their 33 matches this season. They used a 4-4-2 three times, but haven’t gone that direction since April 8. Curiously, New York Head Coach John Wolyniec has picked a 4-3-3 twice and both times were for road matches in Ottawa. Both games ended in 2-2 draws.
It’s worth noting of course that the differences between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 can sometimes be extremely subtle to the point where a team plays a 4-3-3 with the ball and drops to a 4-2-3-1 when defending.
In the first meeting between the Rowdies and Red Bulls, played in New Jersey on Sept. 2, both teams selected a 4-2-3-1 from the start, but the composition of the teams could hardly have been more different. While the Rowdies rely on experience and craft, New York fields one of the youngest teams in the USL, relying on athleticism and speed.
Nine of the Rowdies' starters in New York started against FC Cincinnati in the first round of the playoffs last week.
The average age of New York’s starting XI that day was 21.9 years old, compared to the Rowdies’ 30.7, a difference of nearly a decade. The Red Bulls’ oldest field player, David Najem and the Rowdies’ youngest player, Zac Portillos, are both 25.
For whatever reason, the Rowdies’ performance on the road against the Red Bulls was one of their worst statistical performances of the year. The Rowdies were on the wrong end of possession and passing, two categories they typically dominate. Tampa Bay’s 40.5 percent possession and passing differential of minus-159 were both the second worst of the season.
Red Bulls midfielder Andrew Tinari opened the scoring in the 17th minute, but Rowdies forward Martin Paterson equalized within three minutes. Tampa Bay’s momentum wouldn’t last long though, with New York’s Noah Powder and Florian Valot scoring in the 41st and 54th minutes, respectively, to give the home team a two-goal advantage.
Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell quickly turned to his bench, inserting attackers Sebastian Guenzatti (57th minute), Alex Morrell (59th minute) and Michael Nanchoff (67th minute) in short order.
The influence of those new players turned the tide of the match, with the Rowdies cutting their deficit to 3-2 in the 77th minute with Nanchoff assisting Hunter Gorskie to a goal from a free kick.
Just two minutes later, Morrell had a golden chance to tie the match with a right-footed shot from 16 yards out. Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara made a great save, diving and getting his fingertips to the ball to push it onto the goalpost and out of danger, denying the Rowdies a game-tying goal with 10 minutes to play.
Junior Flemmings would go on to score in the 83rd minute, putting the match out of the Rowdies’ reach.
Full highlights are below.