RDS 05's: TFC Kia Invitational

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Just two weeks after the team’s inception, the RDS 2005 team embarked on their first international trip and prepared for their first opportunity to pit themselves against fellow MLS opposition. Toronto, Canada was the destination, as the newly formed RDS team traveled north to compete in the Kia Fall Invitational, a competition that included the likes of Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew, Sporting KC, DC United and the tournament hosts, Toronto FC.

The trip began on a sunny morning outside Red Bull Arena as the players arrived, ready to board the team bus and immerse themselves in four days of soccer. Hitting the road shortly after 10am, the group of excitable young players soon settled down for their long drive, taking in the on-board films and continuing to bond and get to know one another; a process which had begun two weeks earlier during their preseason camp week at Golden Goal (https://spark.adobe.com/page/v6wJc7uaEAutx/). The highlight of the drive for most will have been the views of Niagara Falls, as the group crossed the border into Canada and were treated with a wonderful vista of the magnificent landmark. Other than that, an uneventful journey saw the team arrive just in time for an evening meal and team meeting, before the players headed to bed, with kick off in their opening games awaiting them early the next morning.

The 16 strong RDS 2005 squad were joined on the trip by five guest players, all highly experienced RDS players in their own right. With four of the five guests being 2006 birth years, the RDS 05’s had a decidedly youthful look about them - especially for an international trip. With the young guests in tow, New York Red Bulls would field two teams in the 7 v 7 tournament; RDS 2005 Red and RDS 2005 White.

Friday, September 16th, 2016

The Red team were up first on Friday morning, led by RDS Coach Ryan Rademacher and kicking off the tournament in the opening game as they took on Canadian team Ottawa Storm. From the moment that the players stepped off the team bus at Toronto FC’s Kia Training Ground on day one, they could see the difference in professionalism between this tournament and any other. Two immaculately manicured grass pitches, surrounded by TFC and Kia advertising hoardings awaited them, at this state of the art training center.

RDS 2005 Red 2 vs Ottawa Storm 1:

The Red team began a little nervously, taking a few moments to settle into the game and establish their rhythm, and found themselves a goal behind after 10 minutes. It didn’t take long for them to bounce back though, with Mark Bronnik coming off the bench to score with his first touch of the ball, and take the Red Bulls into the break at 1-1. The Red Bulls would then begin to dominate the game after the break, with Jeffrey Vanegas putting in a commanding display at the heart of the defense and snuffing out any Ottawa attacks before they had a chance to develop into something more dangerous. And with five minutes remaining, Rafa Sanjuan stepped up to score the Red Bulls second of the game, ensuring that they take all three points from their opening game.

Photographs by Nina Broeer

RDS 2005 White 1 vs York Region Soccer Association 0:

The RDS 2005 White team, led by RDS Coach Gareth Tyack, also began their campaign against Canadian opposition, taking on York Region Soccer Association, in another game that took a while to develop. Against a strong and athletic YRSA side, the Red Bulls finally began to find their rhythm mid-way through the first period, with captain George Herbert leading by example, as their ability to combine at speed helped them to create a couple of good chances on goal. It was a long pass from defender Lucas Pico that helped to break the deadlock though, finding Lorenzo Cali with a beautifully weighted through-ball. Cali then beat the recovering defender before firing the ball across the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net for his first goal of the tournament, to the delight of the watching Red Bulls fans. Despite ending the first half on top, with midfielder Kenneth Cortes instrumental in setting the tone for the Red Bulls ability to move the ball quickly, the Red Bulls could not add to their lead, and went in at the break with a slender one goal lead. The second half was a wholly different affair, with the Red Bulls struggling to assert themselves on the game and YRSA looking the far more dangerous team. Goalkeeper Daniel Herndon had to be on his toes to save smartly late in the game, tipping a looping effort over his crossbar and then saw two shots rattle the woodwork and fly wide as the Red Bulls clung on to their one goal advantage to take a win in game one.

Photographs by Nina Broeer

With both team’s opening games played, it was time for some rest and relaxation ahead of their afternoon fixtures. The boys enjoyed lunch provided by their hosts, and also had the treat of observing the TFC first team train as they did so, watching world class players such as former Red Bulls and current US Men’s National Team stars Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, as well as last season’s MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco. After taking in the first team session, it was time for the RDS boys to prepare themselves for their own games, with hosts Toronto FC awaiting the RDS Red team.

RDS 2005 Red 2 vs Toronto FC White 3

A wonderful game to begin the afternoon fixtures on day one, as the RDS Red team went toe to toe with a strong host side in an action packed game. TFC took the lead in the first half, only to be pegged back by Mark Bronnik’s second goal of the day. Ackime Harris was the creator, finding space on the left wing, audaciously nut-megging his opponent, before delivering a perfectly flighted right footed cross for Bronnik, who skillfully found the bottom corner of the net with his finish. It was TFC who then took the lead again, before the duo of Harris and Bronnik combined for a second time. This time Bronnik was the creator as he found Harris on the run, who again showed class and composure beyond his young years, rounding the TFC goalkeeper before slotting the ball into the empty net. At 2-2 and with all to play for, both teams looked dangerous, with Oscar Valencia and Nico Mangiafico driving the Red Bulls forward from midfield. However, it was the hosts who found the winning goal, taking the 3-2 victory in a thrilling game.

Photographs by Nina Broeer

RDS 2005 White 1 vs Houston Dynamo 1

Despite the relative lack of goals, there was no less drama in the RDS White team’s second game of the day. Up against a strong and hardworking Houston team, the Red Bulls looked far more confident and composed than they had done in game one, and played some wonderful soccer at times. The midfield duo of Tommy O’Rourke and Eric Ruiz controlled the game superbly with wing backs Gabriel Ruitenberg and Zachary Garber getting forward and providing wide options in attack. But it was the Dynamo who struck first, taking a one goal lead early in the second half. The Red Bulls continued to battle and continued to play with confidence, creating several good chances but found the Dynamo Goalkeeper in inspired form. The Red Bulls persistence would pay off though, with O’Rourke scoring the leveling goal with the last kick of the game, slotting home expertly on the volley after a wonderful dead ball delivery from Lorenzo Cali, much to the delight of the traveling Red Bulls fans and the on looking members of the Red Team.

Photographs by Nina Broeer

Such a dramatic end to the game left the entire group on a high as they left the facility for the day, stopping briefly to speak with their family members who had come to show their support and watch them in action.

After heading back to the hotel to shower and change, the Red Bulls squad boarded their bus and headed into downtown Toronto for an evening of sightseeing. The CN Tower was the chosen destination, as the boys braved the 553 meter journey to the top of the tower to take in some wonderful views of the city on a beautifully clear evening. The glass bottom elevator was a hit with some players more than others, with several ‘shrieks’ as the elevator ascended the 147 floors to the observation deck. Timing the outing to perfection, the boys were able to witness the sunset over the horizon, and seeing the Toronto FC Stadium light up for the evening as it did so.

Dinner, a team meeting, and then bedtime completed a successful first day in Toronto as the boys looked forward to day two of the tournament and another chance to test themselves against top level competition.

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

RDS 2005 Red 2 vs Columbus Crew 0

As they were on day one, the RDS Red team were first up on day two of the tournament, facing off against fellow MLS opposition, the Columbus Crew. The Red Bulls looked in control from the outset, but struggled to break down a hardworking and well organized Columbus side. Patience would be key for the Red Bulls, having to wait until the second half before their dominance would pay off. Forward Harrison Neill created the opening goal, driving down the right wing before beating his marker and cutting the ball across the edge of the penalty area for the oncoming Rafael Sanjuan to bend a delightful finish into the far corner of the net. The lead would be doubled moments later, this time with Copeland Berkley as the provider, beating his opponent in the right corner before floating an inviting cross into the penalty area that Mark Bronnik finished on the volley with great aplomb. At the other end August Arias and Jeffrey Vanegas looked imperious at the back in front of goalkeeper Daniel Herndon, as the RDS Red team recorded their first shut out of the tournament.

Photographs by Nina Broeer

RDS 2005 White 1 vs Toronto FC Red 1

In one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, the RDS White team played to their second successive 1-1 tie against another highly talented host side. Taking a grip of the game from the outset, Forward Johnny Matejunas combined with Midfielders Lee Mara and Tommy O’Rourke to create the Red Bulls first chance of the game within the opening seconds, the first chance of many that the impressive TFC goalkeeper would expertly save. It was the Red Bulls who continued to look the more likely to score though, with O’Rourke, Mara and Matejunas looking threatening every time they went forward. Although the hosts took the lead in a back and forth affair, Lorenzo Cali had the opportunity to ensure their lead would be short lived. Winning a penalty after rounding the goalkeeper and being taken down just as he was about to slot the ball into the empty net, Cali - who had been a constant threat to the TFC backline since entering the game - picked himself up and brushed himself off to fire an unstoppable penalty into the roof of net to level the tie. With the final whistle blown, the spoils were shared after a fantastic game of soccer, with TFC’s first team coach Greg Vanney in attendance throughout to run his eye over some future MLS hopefuls.

Photographs by Nina Broeer

The early start meant that both teams got their first game in before the heavens opened and the predicted storm arrived. With no sign of a let up in the forecast, the remainder of the day’s games were postponed, leaving the Red Bulls teams with the chance to head back to the hotel and utilize the hotel pool for a recovery and regeneration session. A wet-weather outing to the cinema later that evening gave the players another opportunity to get off their feet and rest up ahead of the tournament’s final day of action.

Sunday, September 18th 2016

With no signs of any bad weather, a glorious day awaited the teams as they arrived at the Kia Training Ground for the final time for the weekend. The group stages had seen both the Red and White teams finish in the top two of their respective brackets, meaning that both teams had qualified for the semi-final stage.

RDS 2005 White 0 vs Toronto FC White 0 (Red Bulls win 2-0 on penalties)

A tense semi-final affair saw goalkeeper Daniel Herndon produce a man of the match performance to carry the White team into the final. The RDS team, without Lucas Pico and George Herbert due to injury and illness, struggled to gain a foothold in the game and replicate their brilliance from the previous day’s performance. As such, goalkeeper Herndon needed to be in inspired form throughout the game, making numerous top class saves to keep his side in the game against an excellent TFC side. And it was Herndon who would again be the hero as the game went to penalty kicks, saving TFC’s first two penalties. Tommy O’Rourke and Lorenzo Cali both converted their spot-kicks confidently, giving the Red Bulls the victory and securing their place in the final.

Photographs by Nina Broeer

RDS 2005 Red 2 vs Toronto FC Red 1

In the second semi-final of the day, both the Red Bulls and TFC would again square off against one another, in another thrilling game. The Red Bulls started brightly and were on top in the opening exchanges, although TFC gained momentum as the game grew on. The back three of Jeffrey Vanegas, Joshua Castaneda and Rafael Sanjuan looked rock solid defensively and provided a great base from which the RDS team were able to build out from. The industrious duo of Copeland Berkley and Oscar Valencia did not give the TFC midfielders a moment to settle, and drove the Red Bulls forward at every opportunity. Despite the good start to the game, it was the hosts who scored first, finding the net to take a one goal lead into the break. However, the Red Bulls grew in the second half, and the introduction of Ackime Harris made the difference, finding Valencia with a perfectly weighted through ball. The hard running Valenica saw his first attempt saved, but then tucked away the rebound, before celebrating in front of the Red Bulls bench with a front flip - much to the delight of fans and teammates alike. Moments later it was two, with Mark Bronnik scoring his fourth goal in four games, beating an exceptional TFC goalkeeper from twenty yards with a swerving, dipping effort that found the corner of the net. Despite losing the imperious Joshua Castaneda late in the game with a knock to the knee, the Red Bulls held on to clinch the victory, and secure their place in the final.

Photographs by Nina Broeer

The two semi-final victories for the Red Bulls meant that the final would be an all Red Bull affair, and the third/fourth place playoff an all TFC match-up. However, rather than play two fixtures that could be held on their respective home turfs on any occasion, it was agreed to conclude the formalities of the tournament, and use the opportunity to play each other in a scrimmage game to conclude the weekend. So with that plan in place, Red Bulls embraced the opportunity to play as a united squad, with One Team, and One Voice. Following the scrimmage of three, fifteen minute periods, both squads continued to show how little there was to separate them. The only goal came in the second of the three mini games, with TFC scoring one of the goals of the tournament after a sharp and incisive move down their right flank.

With the last game of the weekend done and dusted, all that was left was for the two clubs, who had played out five thrilling games over the course of the 3 days, was to pose for a joint picture together. After that the young Red Bulls players boarded the bus and started their long journey home. One of the quieter journeys of the weekend ensued, with all the players enjoying the opportunity to get some rest after a weekend of exertion against some top level competition.

Arriving back in New Jersey at Red Bull Arena shortly before midnight, the young players were met by their families and received a well-earned round of applause as they stepped off the bus to be greeted by their loved ones. A successful weekend of learning, development and bonding behind them, this wonderful opportunity to be part of an elite tournament would not only help to prepare the team for their upcoming EDP season, but more importantly provide the players individually a glimpse of what the top level looks like and the inspiration to continue to work hard to reach their ambitions of playing at the highest level.

A huge thank you must go to our gracious hosts for the weekend, Toronto FC, who ran a fantastic event from start to finish. We look forward to visiting the Kia Invitational next year with the 2006’s.


Photos by Nina Broeer

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