ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (October 23, 2017) — The Tampa Bay Rowdies needed a win Saturday and an upset elsewhere to stay home for the second round of the USL Cup Playoffs and both happened, meaning the Rowdies will welcome the New York Red Bulls II to Al Lang Stadium on Saturday night in an Eastern Conference Semifinal.
We know how the Rowdies got here — finishing as the No. 3 seed and beating FC Cincinnati 3-0 in the opening round — but how did New York earn this date against Tampa Bay?
New York, led by Head Coach John Wolyniec, was very clearly the class of the USL last season. The Red Bulls finished as regular season champions with a record of 21-6-3 (W-T-L) and held seed all the way through the playoffs, beating the Swope Park Rangers 5-1 in the USL Cup to lift the trophy.
This season has been quite different for the Red Bulls, who finished the regular season in seventh place with a record of 13-5-14 and a negative goal differential. The Red Bulls finished level on points with Bethlehem Steel FC but won the total wins tiebreaker to earn the No. 2 seed and a trip to Charleston to take on the Battery in the opening round of the playoffs.
Once the postseason began, the 2017 New York Red Bulls II began to look a lot like the 2016 Red Bulls, putting on a dominant showing to beat the Battery 4-0 on the road in the Eastern Conference’s only upset of the opening weekend.
It took until the 39th minute for New York to open the scoring in South Carolina, via a Stefano Bonomo goal, but once the first goal was in, the Red Bulls didn’t let up. Three goals in the second half completed a shocking score line. Ethan Kutler, Florian Valot and Ben Mines all scored in the second half.
As evidenced by their record, which featured the fewest draws in the Eastern Conference, New York is an all-or-nothing type of team with a proclivity for scoring a lot of goals and conceding even more.
The Red Bulls’ 57 goals were second only to Louisville (58) in the East, but their 60 goals conceded were six more than even Toronto FC II, which finished dead last in the East with 54 goals against, allowed.
Expect a wide open game Saturday night, with the Rowdies and Red Bulls’ two meetings this season producing a total of 11 goals. One Red Bulls game earlier this month featured 11 goals on its own, with New York winning 6-5 in Orlando on October 7.