The Red Bulls received a little extra help in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution thanks to the help of Andre Akpan, who earned the assist on Lloyd Sam’s goal in New York’s 1-1 draw. We spoke to Red Bulls Reserves coach John Wolyniec after a recent training session to get his take on the Red Bulls’ Reserves, coaching the team, and how hard work can turn into bigger opportunities with the First Team.
Andre Akpan made his first start for us against the Revolution Saturday after a few matches with the reserves and subbing on against New England at home on Apr. 20. Did you see something in the reserve games that suggested he might be ready for a start with the club?
Obviously we’ve got a competitive group and it’s going to be tough for some guys to get in. And the point of reserves games is to keep guys sharp and keep them close to game fit and give opportunities to show and prove that they can play, and I think Andre did that through the last few reserves games, especially in Chicago. Even Columbus a little bit. I think Andre’s been a pretty consistent performer for us, and I think it’s a good thing we had those games for him because I think it kept him pretty prepared for getting the start in New England and he definitely showed well for himself and he helped us get a point. He was definitely a big part of us for coming home with a point.
When you chat with the coaches about the reserve games, do you maybe suggest which guys were looking pretty sharp out there? Or suggest who you think might be ready for some action with the first team?
The main thing is to give the guys, it’s two fold I guess, to stay fit and to prove they can play at the first team level. Mike has been at every game, so I don’t have to relay too much to him. He’s there watching with his own two eyes. He’ll ask me some questions as to how sharp some guys are, but at the end of the day it’s his decision. To Mike’s credit, I don’t know how many head coaches in the league have stayed for all the reserve games, but Mike’s there a lot looking, because he knows that there’s going to be those times when he needs those guys. He doesn’t have to ask me too much.
The reserve schedule is a little weird at times because sometimes you’ll get a bunch of games in a row, and then you’ll have a few weeks off. How do you account for that and make sure the guys are staying in top shape?
We did the best we could to schedule a consistent reserves schedule, but it’s very difficult, since we were one of the last teams to put the schedule out there. With Philly and D.C., our closest competitors not having a reserve team, it made it difficult for us to put a proper schedule together. When it’s a lot of games it’s good, guys get a lot of opportunities to play. When there’s not so many games we try and fill in with some other opportunities, possibly play the U-23 team. I had some of the Academy guys up to fill in for a game to help guys get into game situations and not just practice situations. It’s a bit of a juggling act to try and keep guys fit and ready to go, but at the same time not give them too many games where guys are too tired to play. It’s tricky, but you do the best you can, find games where you can. It’s just about giving them opportunities.
You recently had the Academy play against our reserves in light of not having a reserve game scheduled, right?
Yeah, that was the U-18s, we had some Academy guys in. You know, sometimes the reserve guys, especially when the team travels, there’s not so many guys left behind. So you get some numbers so that you can have an 11v11, because that’s what these guys play. They need to prove they can play in a game situation. And it’s a good opportunity for our U-18s. Actually a couple of U-16s to get out there and compete with those guys, and I think they did pretty well. It’s not ideal, but it’s a way to provide the young guys with a chance to play.