On January 21, 2015, the New York Red Bulls announced that the club successfully acquired the rights to a USL franchise. An essential stepping stone in the development of the modern American soccer player, the inception of a USL team for the Red Bulls was a no brainer.
“We are proud about this important moment in the history of our organization,” said Sporting Director Ali Curtis. “This platform will integrate coaches, players and staff at all levels from the Academy, USL PRO and First Team as we are excited to start competing at the USL PRO level this season.”
Less than a month later, New York Red Bulls II was born. The Red Bulls unveiled NYRB II’s name and logo on Feb. 9, 2015 and made Tyler Adams the club’s first ever signing in March. The 16-year old Red Bulls Academy product was first introduced to the organization through the Red Bulls Regional Development School (RDS) at the age of 10, before joining the Red Bulls Under-13 Academy team, and has since become a member of the First Team.
Following open tryouts and preseason, Red Bulls II announced its first roster ahead of its inaugural USL match, consisting of 11 USL players, four MLS loans, and five Red Bulls Academy players who each signed a USL agreement for academy players, allowing them to play for NYRB II while preserving their amateur status. In total, 12 of the 20 players listed on the roster for the first game were Red Bulls Academy products.
The team played its first match on March 28 at Red Bull Arena against Rochester Rhinos. The young Red Bulls II team played to a scoreless draw, 0-0. In the next game, New York welcomed Toronto FC II. MLS loanee Anatole Abang scored the first goal in club history, thanks to an assist from Sean Davis, and Red Bulls II earned its first ever victory, 4-1.
As the season progressed, bright young stars began to emerge. It wasn’t long until Red Bulls U-18 captain Derrick Etienne, who’s since signed as a Homegrown Player with the First Team, took the league by storm, commanding the left side of the field and dazzling defenders with his quickness and exceptional ball control. Konrad Plewa, a versatile player who played as a midfielder and a defender in 2015, scored back-to-back game-winning goals to kickoff NYRB II’s first winning streak on an extensive road trip.
That same road trip marked a turning point in the season. It was a grueling stretch: six straight road matches from May 30 - June 27. After opening the road trip with a draw against FC Montreal, Red Bulls II earned a much needed victory against Wilmington Hammerheads. Then against Louisville City FC, one of the top teams in the league, Plewa and Etienne both scored while goalkeeper Santiago Castano kept a clean sheet. New York went on to win again and just like that, they were four games unbeaten, their longest such streak of the season.
But perhaps the biggest boost to their season was not a USL game. On July 22, the New York Red Bulls hosted 2014-15 English Premier League champions Chelsea FC in the 2015 International Champions Cup. By the end of the night, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch provided 15 players, all regular Red Bulls II starters, their First Team debuts against Chelsea.
After going into halftime trailing the English champions, 1-0, Red Bulls Academy product Franklin Castellanos leveled the score in the 51st minute. Shortly afterwards, 16-year old Tyler Adams scored his first professional goal to put New York ahead in the 69th minute. Four minutes later, Sean Davis added a third. Although Chelsea pulled one back, the Red Bulls proved it was their night and Davis answered with the fourth and final goal in the 77th minute to earn New York a victory that made global headlines, 4-2.
“I think that looked like a Red Bull team [tonight],” said First Team Head Coach Jesse Marsch. “I think it's important to acknowledge the job that John Wolyniec has done with the USL team, Vadim [Kirillov] and Ibrahim [Sekagya], the job those guys have spent a lot of time with us and our team, and our training and our team, and we've tried to implement the type of play and style we want at all levels...the best part is I still think even with a bunch of different players on the field and some young kids on the field, it looked like us.”
Red Bulls II never looked back since, finishing the season strong and earning the club’s first ever USL Playoffs berth. The club finished its inaugural regular season 12-10-6, in fourth place of the Eastern Conference. NYRB II were also the fourth-highest scoring team in the league.
On Sept. 26, NYRB II hosted its first postseason match at Red Bull Arena against Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Pittsburgh went ahead early in the match, but Red Bulls II answered in the second half to send the game into overtime tied, 1-1. In the first overtime session, the Riverhounds pulled ahead with a goal in the 96th minute, but captain Karl Ouimette leveled the match in the 102nd minute to keep New York’s playoff hopes alive. In the second overtime, Ouimette snatched another goal in the 115th minute, and Daniel Bedoya put away the game with NYRB II’s fourth goal to earn Red Bulls II its first playoff victory, 4-2.
Unfortunately, Red Bulls II’s playoff run ended in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Rochester Rhinos, the eventual 2015 USL champions, but it was an impressive first season for the young team.
“It's been kind of one of the shining stars of the year in terms of USL and that player development platform,” Ali Curtis said. “That's been unbelievable for us, it really has helped guys like Tyler Adams and Sean Davis and [Anatole] Abang like you mentioned, it's helped even the young player in Derrick Etienne and the season that he had at [University of Virginia] and you know developing through our pyramid so it's been fantastic for those guys.”
“They get meaningful training opportunities as well as meaningful minutes against real professionals in games that count and it's expedited their development so if you looked at the first half of the season and where guys were playing from the USL perspective and Sean Davis and Abang and those guys, it's helped their development as soccer players and contributing to our team at the MLS level.”
Next season, five USL players will be returning to the squad as head coach John Wolyniec and his technical staff looks to build upon a successful first season in USL.
“We'll get better at that platform, we'll get more sophisticated, that team will get stronger, we'll look to add more local players to that team so it's very exciting,” Curtis said. “I think the future is bright particularly because as an organization we're able to make that investment, which is fantastic by the way, so it's exciting.”