By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Jun 8, 2018) US Soccer Players - The New York Red Bulls added to their bag of bragging rights against NYCFC with a 4-0 win in the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup on Wednesday night. With both teams playing second-choice lineups in a competition with rules regarding the use of foreign players, it was the Jersey side that got the best of their city rivals. Former Red Bulls II player Aaron Long got on the score sheet with the lineup featured several players who had experience playing for the club’s USL entry.
After the match, NYCFC boss Patrick Vieira pointed to the USL team as an advantage the Red Bulls have on the Bronx-based club. The Red Bulls are one of a small number of MLS who have heavily invested in the USL-MLS partnership and reaped the benefits. Key first-team contributors like Long, Tyler Adams, Sean Davis, Alex Muyl, and Vincent Bezecourt
“Both teams have players who don’t play often,” Vieira told reporters after the game. “But they look more sharp than us. One of the reasons is that they have a “B” team. The “B” team allows those players to play every week. It’s going to be difficult for [NYCFC’s young reserve players] because they didn’t get many games lately. They struggle with [the tempo] physically”.
When it was pointed out to Vieira that the decision not to give those young players minutes was his, he pointed to the age of the club and again identified the lack of a second team as the problem.
“What’s important for us as a club is to try to have that second team that would allow those young players to keep playing every week,” he said. “Until we have that, it will be difficult for us to improve the young players we have in our team.”
“The club is only four years old. Of course, we are behind the Red Bulls because of the way they’ve been working the last couple of years. It’s just a question of time, I think. Our priority now is to have a stadium. We have to do it step by step.”
Perhaps Vieira was using the opportunity to pressure his bosses at NYCFC to move more quickly on establishing a USL operation in the vein of Red Bulls II. Vieira might have been dodging responsibility on some level, but he also sounded like a man bred by European environments where second teams in good competitions are the norm. Why wouldn't he want what the club across the Hudson has going?
The impact of the USL reserve sides on the US Open Cup was even larger than the Red Bulls victory over NYCFC on Wednesday. With direct MLS affiliates ineligible for the competition, numerous senior level MLS clubs dipped into their USL rosters to fill out their US Open Cup lineups. Clubs who have prioritized development out of the USL level in recent seasons made a point to give time in the tournament to players who are still establishing themselves as professional.
Vieira specifically mentioned 15-year old forward Joe Scally, 17-year old midfielder James Sands, 21-year old winger Jonathan Lewis, and 22-year old midfielder Kwame Awuah as players who might have been better ready for the Open Cup challenge with some USL seasoning. It’s hard to argue with him considering the success of similarly young players in wins by MLS teams in other Open Cup matches.
Sporting Kansas City started three Homegrown signings with an average age of 18 in a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah. 16-year old Gianluca Busio, the second youngest MLS signing in history after Freddy Adu, made his first Sporting Kansas City start and played all 90 minutes. Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal and Jaylin Lindsey, academy products who made MLS appearances in recent weeks, also started. Sporting is the defending champion of the Open Cup and certainly wants to repeat as champions. That didn’t stop Peter Vermes from leveraging the competition as an opportunity to play his kids in a meaningful match for the senior squad.
Of course, Vermes was resting many of his first choice players at the same time as he was pushing along his younger group. Tata Martino did the same with Atlanta, rolling out a group that featured Andrew Carlton and Miles Robinson in a 3-0 win over Charleston. The Open Cup exists in a limbo of "important but not that important". That means almost every MLS team puts out something different than their regular lineup.
For Open Cup boosters, it’s often painful to see the country’s best teams field second and third choice players. Those lineups indicate MLS teams don’t value the Open Cup properly, cheapening the competition for everyone and limiting its growth. It's nothing new for MLS coaches to test the depths of their resources in the later rounds of the US Open Cup.
MLS teams using the US Open Cup as an incubator for the talent they actually care about is an improvement. That might not be exactly what the Open Cup’s leading proponents prefer. However, it does add a layer of interest to the tournament that didn’t exist before. USL is proving its worth to MLS teams as a place for players to learn and develop. That experience is improving the level of play for the senior MLS teams when they enter a knockout tournament they were previously notorious for neglecting.
More From Jason Davis:
- TAM tells a familiar MLS story
- What is going on with the Montreal Impact?
- Cincinnati gets its MLS team
- Cinderella stories in the 2018 US Open Cup
(Photo by Andrew Katsampes - ISIPhotos.com)