United Soccer League
Second-seeded Louisville City FC was in control in the early going of Sunday’s Eastern Conference Final of the 2016 USL Cup Playoffs. The top-seeded New York Red Bulls II hadn’t trailed against Louisville all season, but the USL Regular Season Champions eventually turned the corner.
With Florian Valot’s second-half equalizer and two penalty shootout saves from Ryan Meara, NYRBII earned a spot in the USL Cup Final, Presented by Nike, on Sunday, Oct. 23, at Red Bull Arena (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU) against the Swope Park Rangers.
For Meara, who turned away the first and fifth Louisville attempts for a 4-3 shootout win, it was the type of accomplishment that any goalkeeper relishes.
“As a goalie, you kind of live for moments like that – make a big save, in a penalty shootout, in a big game,” Meara said. “I’m just happy to do my part.”
In the early moments, though, Louisville was dictating the game and broke through with Paco Craig’s 11th-minute header out of Meara’s reach.
“It was one of the things we were saying before the game, that they were going to punch us early on,” Meara said. “Obviously they got the goal. We were on our heels a bit.”
“We came out a little tight, maybe in circumspect a little bit too much respect, which got us away from what we like to do,” NYRBII Head Coach John Wolyniec said.
The turnaround appeared to begin with Vincent Bezecourt’s long-distance attempt in the final five minutes of the opening half, which took a strong Greg Ranjitsingh save to keep Louisville on top. In the second half, NYRBII generated far more chances and eventually broke through with Valot’s header off of a Bezecourt assist.
“As the game went on, we settled down and we slowly gained control of the game,” Meara said. “The hard work paid off. Vincent puts in a great free kick, Florian glances it on and it’s a goal, all tied up.”
For Wolyniec, it was less about tactical approach and more about getting back to the patented high-pressure game that has given NYRBII success all season.
“We should have faith in what we’re doing,” Wolyniec said. “Don’t worry about tactics, get back to what we can do, who we are and try to put energy into the game and get after the ball, get after second balls.”
The shootout went as well as it could for NYRBII, with Meara stopping Cameron Lancaster’s and Ben Newnam’s attempt. Meanwhile, all four New York players converted: Derrick Etienne Jr., Aaron Long, Brandon Allen and Bezecourt for the winner.
With back-to-back shootout wins against the defending USL champion Rochester Rhinos and Louisville, and coming back in both matches, New York certainly feels it has the poise for another strong result when they host Swope Park, another team that is in strong form at the right time of the year.
“They’re a team that has some pace up top and we’re going to have to deal with that,” Wolyniec said. “They’re not going to be easy to break down, but we have a lot of confidence going in.”