New York Red Bulls II hosted the Hudson Valley Hammers in the First Round of the 2024 U.S. Open Cup at Montclair State University on Wednesday, March 20, 2024 (Credit: Michael Battista)
New York Red Bulls II hosted the Hudson Valley Hammers in the First Round of the 2024 U.S. Open Cup at Montclair State University on Wednesday, March 20, 2024 (Credit: Michael Battista)

A decade after playing its first U.S. Open Cup match, New York Red Bulls II finally won a match in the United States national championship. The MLS Next Pro side defeated amateurs Hudson Valley Hammers, 5-1, on Wednesday night at Montclair State University. The team advances to next month’s second round and awaits a draw later this week.

Goals came from Dylan Sullivan, Mohammed Sofo, Aidan Jarvis, Malick Dembele, and Ibrahim Kasule.

Hammers’ head coach, Brandon Levine, was proud of his group’s performance despite the result.

“I think the experience is always tough for an amateur team for like USL Two side. Our season didn’t start until two months so it’s really a make shift group at best,” said Levine.

New York did not need to wait long for its first big break. Hudson Valley’s Dylan Evande was shown a straight red in the 12th minute after a huge foul on Mohammed Sofo. After an intercepted pass, Sofo ran for a break into the HVH box, looking for a long pass. Evande came from the forward’s blindside and essentially checked him in the back.

After the match, Levine said from that point the mission of the game really changed.

“(The card) really just flipped the game on its head,” the coach said. “I think it was less about the results at that point. No offense to us. It’s more about, ‘Hey, what can we take away from it individually or collectively?’… I really thought we brought a lot of intensity to the game, and there was never really quit in the group.”

Not long after, Sofo got the last laugh as he passed the ball across the HVH box. Dylan Sullivan tapped the ball into essentially an empty net to give New York the lead in the 17th minute.

Ironically, Sullivan is the step-brother of former RBNY midfielder and current AFC Bournemouth star Tyler Adams. Adams is the founder of Hudson Valley Hammers, with both his parents working jobs with the team.

In the 43rd minute, a long shot by Ibrahim Kasule was saved by the Hammers’ Steven Ortiz. The rebound fell near Sofo, who punched the loose ball into the top of the net to make it 2-0.

In the second half, New York continued to control possession, and at times, it felt as though the larger organization was toying with the USL League Two team. While the story of the game will be the scoreline, New York’s lead could have been even higher. But sloppy play from the young, still in the early season, foiled multiple chances. The snow squall and high winds may have also played a factor, as those picked up during halftime. Both of those reasons were key, plus Ortiz making multiple fantastic saves late in the game.

The former Flower City Union keeper was praised by Levine after the game. The team was without many of the players who got the side into the USL playoffs last year. That meant a lot of new signings that were thrown into the fire against an organized Red Bull system.

“He’s a really top guy, and I think he showed really well today,” Levine said. “From top to bottom distribution wise, saves, (and) leadership mentality.”

Another late signing for the team was forward Ryan Peterson. The New Jersey native has a history at Montclair State’s field, where he helped FC Motown win a national championship in 2022. He had multiple attempts against NYRB’s Alan Rutkowski in goal.

Aiden Jarvis put the game away with a goal in the 63rd minute with a shot into the right corner. The goal came in front of a modified South Ward, who could be heard all night. At points, the group chanted “F*ck Don Garber” in response to Major League Soccer’s decision to not fully participate in the Open Cup with first teams. Only two years ago, New York Red Bulls (MLS) reached the tournament semifinals.

Hudson Valley’s Israel Nieto pulled one back for the visitors in the 79th minute, juking Rutkowski before bicycle kicking a shot into the net. The visitor’s first-ever Open Cup goal would be their only one as New York added two more late. Malick Dembele scored in the 83rd to cap off his team debut, and Ibrahim Kasule scored in the 90+1st minute.

“This is our style of play. We needed more goals. We needed to go keep going,” New York Red Bulls II head coach Ibrahim Sekagya said. “You can’t take your foot off the pedal. You just must think of getting more goals because, in these games, you never know what can happen with these things. This is what we talked about. For them also, they were in the game. Those players are professional, and to play with our second team so that, we needed to push for 90 minutes.”

This is not NYRB II’s first time competing in the U.S. Open Cup. In 2015, the final edition before professional reserve teams were barred, New York entered in the Second Round. The team lost to amateurs Jersey Express, with Tyler Adams making his debut for the Bulls.

The Red Bulls will most likely play the winner of Thursday’s First Round match between FC Motown and New York City FC II. That game will also be played at Montclair State, with kickoff at 7:30 tonight.

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