New York Red Bulls’ supporter’s group Torcida 96 cheer on the team at Montclair State University in the 2022 U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 against Charlotte FC (Credit: Michael Battista)

The New York Red Bulls advanced to the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup by beating Charlotte FC, 3-1, on Wednesday night. Two second half goals lifted RBNY into the next round in front of a packed crowd at Montclair State University.

Despite not being at Red Bull Arena, the result is technically New York’s first home win of 2022. Goals from Patryk Klimala, Dylan Nealis, and Tom Barlow provided enough excitement and broke what has been a slump against downtrodden opposition in league play.

Ahead of this match, head coach Gerhard Struber described the Open Cup as a “sexy tournament” when speaking to the media. On the surface, it was a positively honest assessment for how the coach feels about a competition many in Major League Soccer overlook, especially when it comes to front offices. On gameday the manager backed up his flirty words with a near full-strength lineup.

The only player who stuck out from the XI was Daniel Edelman. The defender was making his second straight Open Cup start but he was alone in that regard. Carlos Coronel took his place as keeper, replacing the veteran backup Ryan Meara, while John Tolkin and Cristian Casseras Jr. both returned.

Tolkin has been dealing with COVID symptoms and this marked his first game with the team in about a week and a half. Casseras meanwhile missed the last round match against DC United due to a red card suspension.

Despite being a 4-4-2 on paper, the Bull’s formation acted more like a 3-4-3 with Tolkin playing up from the backline near constantly. Meanwhile Omir Fernandez joined Luquinhas and Patryk Klimala up top.

“Omir Fernandez (had) overload today from so many directions, from decelerations, accelerations, in speed meters,” Struber said postgame. “Luquinhas, we can see in the last minute how he’s spring back with pain and everything, and both players very helpful at the moment for the team and have also today I think a big part to create the victory.”

Right off the first whistle, the Bulls charged and scored the fastest goal in team history for a U.S. Open Cup match. A corner kick by Tom Edwards led to a scramble in the box where the ball trickled near the goal line towards the left post. Klimala jumped on it in the 2nd minute to put the home side up, 1-0. The lead didn’t last long though as a defensive lapse allowed Charlotte’s Andre Shinyashiki to find Daniel Rios on the left side. A low, slightly curved shot got past Coronel and leveled the game at one goal each in the 8th minute.

From there, the game dipped into a pattern. New York kept the ball in Charlotte’s end for a majority of the half. However, the offense seemed to go through Fernandez for a majority of the time. Besides the goal, Klimala looked off during the first 45 minutes and struggled to make or receive long passes. Many of Charlotte’s best chances came off these types of mistakes. The visitors came off the back foot rarely but when they did it was quick.

That isn’t to say there weren’t chances to retake the lead. Aaron Long connected with a header attempted in the 23rd minute that required a diving save from Kristijan Kahlina. Klimala nearly doubled his tally in the 41st minute with a curving shot that went just wide of the left post. All the while, referee Ernie Constantine struggled to contain what was becoming a chippy game.

Over the course of the 90 minutes, the referee handed out six yellow cards including one each to New York’s Dylan Nealis and Daniel Edelman before the half. After the match, Struber was vocally aggravated at what he described as a referee who was “not ready for this level”. Whether that be in MLS or any sort of professional U.S. Soccer match.

In the second half, both teams re-organized with Charlotte looking the better of the two. The first year MLS team took control of the game and held the ball for much longer. Short passes were the game and it nearly paid off in the 59th minute. A long cross was headed towards Charlotte forward Kamil Jozwiak, who headed it on net from near point-blank range. Coronel needed to make a jumping save to tip the ball over the crossbar and keep the game level.

Despite his heroics, many of the game’s chances for both teams were getting blocked by defenders. In truth, both keepers only combined for three saves all game.

Charlotte took advantage of the chippy play and earned several free kicks but failed to convert any. But after one of these chances, New York’s time finally came. Klimala made a run off a counter attack during the 63rd minute and sped past Guzman Corujo. With seemingly all the defenders looking at the Polish international on the left side, the eventual cross into the box got past all of them to a wide open Dylan Nealis. The charging midfielder gave his team the 2-1 lead and after the game he was sure to credit his teammate for the score.

“I was super happy about (the goal),” Nealis told the media. “All credit to Patryk [Klimala] though, he did all the work and then just putting a simple ball across the box and you know, I was just in the right spot at the right time and yeah, it is huge for the team. It gets us to the next round and it builds momentum in the league. So, we are super happy about it.”

New York remained in control the rest of the match and scored the game clinching goal early in stoppage time. Second half substitute Tom Barlow made the most of his return to his former Red Bulls II stomping grounds. A goal line cross from Luquinhas allowed him to tap-in the third goal of the night to make it 3-1.

With New York City FC beating the New England Revolution, 1-0 AET, the Quarterfinals will have a Hudson River Derby. The Bulls will host the defending MLS Cup champions at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, June 22. This is the tenth time in franchise history the Bulls’ have reached the last eight. It will also be the third time they have played NYCFC in the tournament.

When asked, Struber noted he thinks it’s probably one of the best match-ups the team could have gotten. Not only will it bring a big atmosphere to Red Bull Arena (confirmed as the host venue) but the manager also believes the crosstown rivals don’t like playing against his boys.

“I think we like to play a derby. We play in our stadium, and this is I think for everyone one more time a big chance to come in a derby atmosphere and I think in the end, we know that they don’t like so much to play against us. They have not so much fun to play against us… It’s, I think, a very, very massive opponent.”

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