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Repeat or Revenge? Louisville, Red Bulls II Ready for Rematch

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 11/02/17, 5:01PM EDT


Memories of 2016 Eastern Conference Final still fresh for both teams

Photo courtesy Ben Solomon / New York Red Bulls II

There’s always something intriguing about a rematch, but anticipation for this Saturday’s Eastern Conference Final between No. 1-seed Louisville City FC and No. 7-seed New York Red Bulls II in the 2017 USL Cup Final has only been helped by the game the two teams played at this stage a year ago.

Back then, on Oct. 16 at Red Bull Arena, there was plenty of action, from goals and red cards to a game-settling penalty shootout. For the players that were part of it, looking back at last year’s game evokes plenty of memories.

“I remember getting dominated, to be honest, for the first half,” said Red Bulls II midfielder Dan Metzger, who has played a key role in his side’s defense of the championship this year. “They came out really strong and really put the pressure on us, kind of how we hope to do against them at their place this year. I remember they came out flying, and we were on our heels for a little bit.”

Now serving as the Red Bulls II’s captain, Metzger is among 16 players who could be set to feature in Saturday’s rematch. After helping his side battle back to take victory in a penalty shootout a year ago after the sides had finished in a 1-1 draw through regulation and extra time, visiting Louisville for the second playoff go-around between the clubs is an enticing prospect.

“We got the better of them last year, but this year, they got the better of us, so it’s really going to be interesting to go into Louisville in front of a bunch of fans and try to knock off the No. 1 seed,” said Metzger. “It’ll be a good test for us, but that’s what we’ve been doing all throughout the playoffs, and even coming back from the beginning of the year when we struggled a little bit and turned our season around. I think we’re up for the challenge.”

The memories on the other side of the pitch are just as vivid, even if they are those of disappointment for the likes of Greg Ranjitsingh. An early exit from the game due to the aggravation of a groin injury he had been carrying early in the second half still rankles the Louisville goalkeeper.

“I had been nursing it, weeks before my groin had gone, and I just knew that was it, I had to watch from the sidelines,” said Ranjitsingh. “I had great confidence in Tim Dobrowolski, who’s also an amazing goalkeeper, and he stepped in, and unfortunately, we couldn’t get the result. It was devastating for me to watch from the sidelines, not being able to help the team out.”

Current Louisville midfielder Speedy Williams didn’t even get a view from the sidelines when the penalty shootout arrived. The Jamaican, who was then a member of the Red Bulls II, had been sent off in the 118th minute after bringing down Louisville’s Cameron Lancaster on a breakaway as the game became stretched late in extra time.

“I was hoping we would win, because I was in the dressing room, throwing stuff around and peeking at the TV,” said Williams. “Then when we won, I ran straight out onto the field. … It was a really great feeling, because we knew we were going to the championship game, and we were feeling very confident that we were going to win it.”

Williams’ switch to Louisville this offseason offers an additional subplot to the game. The central midfielder has stayed in touch with some of his former teammates since his departure from the Red Bulls II, but he’s looking forward to the chance to square off with them with so much on the line.

“Being against your old team, it’s going to be really exciting,” Williams said. “Most definitely, it’s going to be a good one, it’s going to be a great game.”

Photo courtesy Ben Solomon / New York Red Bulls II

For Metzger, the chance to repeat as Eastern Conference champions and become the first side to make consecutive USL Cup appearances despite some of the departures the side has seen would be a big credit to the Red Bulls’ organization.

“We lost some big names, like Aaron Long and Tyler Adams, who obviously helped us a lot last year, and guys like Zach Carroll who helped us get to the final,” said Metzger. “Credit to the guys that have been here and [Head Coach John] Wolyniec, from the start of our season to now has really been night and day, and for us to come back and really rally and get back in form and make a push, I think it gives a lot of credit to the guys on the team and the coaching staff as well.”

While there are differences between the squads, the mood for both teams is starting to feel familiar as the countdown to Saturday night’s kickoff ramps up.

“Going in, it felt a lot like [it does] this year,” said Louisville’s Kyle Smith. “We have great vibes in the locker room, we were feeling really good about ourselves being in a good spot and I think we’re in a good spot again this year. Hopefully, this year, we can tweak a couple of things and come out with the win.”

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