Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As New York Red Bulls II goalkeeper Evan Louro dived to save from Louisville City FC’s Paolo DelPiccolo to give his side the edge after the second round of the penalty shootout, the second in as many years needed to separate the two teams in the USL Cup Playoffs after an enthralling 120 minutes of action in front of 10,047 fans at Slugger Field, it seemed the visitors and defending champions were going to upset the odds again.
This time, though, it wasn’t to be.
Louisville goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh turned the tables on the Red Bulls II, saving from both Ben Mines to open the fourth round and Evan Kutler to open the fifth as New York’s championship defense came to an end in deflating fashion after a stellar display that saw the Red Bulls II almost pull off its third consecutive road win of the postseason.
“The message was before was just to believe, have confidence, have no fear and we did that,” said Red Bulls II Head Coach John Wolyniec. “None of our guys came up short in that sense. You have to give credit to the goalkeeper in his two saves, one by inches. … I missed some in my career, I still remember them very clearly. My message is that even in missing, there can be more value in that then scoring. It doesn’t seem like it now, but it may carry immense weight in the future as long as it’s used and approached in the proper way.”
The Red Bulls II had been flawless from the spot in two shootouts a season ago in defeating first the Rochester Rhinos and then Louisville on the way to claiming the USL Cup. There were similarities to the side’s clash with Louisville a season ago on Saturday night, from the early concession of the lead on Brian Ownby’s 12th-minute tally for the hosts to a strong second-half comeback that saw Junior Flemmings notch a fine goal just before the hour-mark to level.
The Jamaican international showed speed and awareness as New York hit on a lightning-quick counterattack in the 57th minute, latching onto Stefano Bonomo’s flicked header before earning a slice of luck via a deflection that sent his finish from the left side of the penalty area into the net.
“In the first start, what I got to realize was that I was giving my back too much,” said Flemmings. “That allows him to get up my back end and start to attack really aggressive from behind. I started opening my hips and started going at him and realized he was backing up. Then I looked up I saw the goalkeeper started advancing to his near post, so I hit it across and got lucky it went to the back of the net.”
If not for Ranjitsingh, the Red Bulls II might have taken victory before the game reached a shootout, too. Kutler’s powerful free kick from 19 yards out to the left corner of the net was outstanding, but so too was the save Louisville’s goalkeeper produced to turn it around the post for a corner. After an opening 30 minutes where his side had difficulty finding its feet, the game played out almost as a microcosm of the Red Bulls II’s season as the visitors appeared to get stronger as the game went on.
“In a lot of ways, the game looked like we wanted it to,” said Wolyniec. “Maybe not in the beginning of the game and up to the time they scored. But from after that minute on, by no means were we in control of the game, but we made it a game that we feel comfortable in and a game that we like to play against a really good team at a place that they’re really good at home. I have to give credit to the players for being willing to put it all out there like that.”
As disappointing as it was for the defense of their title to come to an end, the growth the Red Bulls II showed over the course of this season and the tenacity the showed throughout the postseason bodes well for the side’s future.
“The resounding emotion for me is just proud,” said defender Tim Schmoll. “I’m really proud of how we approached that game, I’m really proud of how we fought until the end of that game and PK’s, it’s really anyone’s game at that point and we were just on the losing side, which hurts.”
“I just know that these are the moments that really put players through the test,” added Wolyniec. “I really thought our guys showed up in a really good way. That game easily could have went a whole bunch of ways from start to finish. We’re a little unlucky, hopefully we learn from it and let the burn make us stronger for next time.”