New York Red Bulls' goalkeeper Carlos Coronel makes a critical save in the first half during his team's 2-0 win against Charlotte FC to clinch a home playoff match (Credit: New York Red Bulls)
New York Red Bulls’ goalkeeper Carlos Coronel clean sheet against Charlotte FC means his team will host an MLS Cup Playoff game this coming weekend at Red Bull Arena (Credit: New York Red Bulls)

Despite being out-possessed by Charlotte FC in their regular season finale, the New York Red Bulls’ came through with a critical 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. Elias Manoel’s two goals now sets up New York with a home match in this weekend’s MLS Cup Playoff first round.

The Bulls have officially finished in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They’ll host fifth seed FC Cincinnati in Harrison this Saturday, Oct. 15, at noon. The first game of the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs belongs to two teams that many didn’t expect to be in the postseason at all. This is also New York’s first home playoff game since 2018’s Eastern Conference Final.

The outcome of Decision Day, the final day of the Major League Soccer regular season, was always in New York’s hands. A win meant the team was guaranteed to finish fourth or higher in the Eastern Conference. A draw or tie meant a home playoff game came down to other results from teams below them in the standings.

Across the league, the win by New York City FC and loss by Inter Miami CF meant that RBNY was locked into fourth place regardless of today’s result. But speaking to the media after the match head coach Gerhard Struber explained the result is about more than points at this point of the season.

“It was so important for me today that we invest everything for a win,” Struber said. “And the win helps always to grow quicker, to have more confidence, and to have more belief. In the end (we) have a better set-up together (and) the energy is different. The atmosphere is different. When you go into the dressing room today you can feel it.”

The other atmosphere it affected was the sizable crowd at Red Bull Arena. Officially recorded as just over 22,000, the fans were loud throughout the match hoping to see a positive result. The possibility of the team hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2018 was on many of their minds. Despite the fact that RBNY has done better on the road this season, a majority of the crowd that spoke to NYC Sports Nation wanted that home game.

One fan, who asked not to be quoted directly, even said that while he doesn’t believe the team will win this coming weekend he wanted to see them finish as a top four seed. Going further, the fan explained he’d been a season ticket holder for a handful of years and finally wanted to experience a playoff game at home first hand after traveling to Philadelphia a few years back.

On the field fans were treated to a game that never felt like New York was fully in control despite having the lead. New York came onto the pitch in a 3-4-3 formation that sometimes felt more akin to a 3-3-1-3. Newly signed John Tolkin played far above the backline and acted as something of a upper defender or full fledged midfielder while Dylan Nealis and Frankie Amaya played more back to start. The fast pace of the early game only heightened this play-style though it was working.

Luquinhas and Manoel acted as attackers with the latter finding his space in the middle of the field. In the eighth minute, Amaya fed Lewis Morgan 10 yards out from the top of the box in the middle of the field. His shot on goal was stopped by Charlotte keeper Pablo Sisniega but the rebound rolled right towards Manoel. The Brazilian shot a bullet into the opposite side netting to make it 1-0.

In response Charlotte began to control ball possession. This is a trend that continued for the rest of the match which never allowed New York to fully feel like the game was secure. After 90 minutes, ESPN recorded that Charlotte FC held possession for 73% of the game. Their attack up the left side was a major factor in this with Daniel Edelman getting juked on two notable occasions in the early game by Polish national team player Kamil Jozwiak.

Red Bulls’ goalkeeper was forced to save six shots on target. Three of which were phenomenal diving saves while his team only led by one goal. In the 21st minute a Charlotte free kick saw the ball find its way to Nuno Santos on the right side. He controlled the ball and got around a RBNY defender before shooting high towards the right side of the net. Coronel jumped to finger tip the ball out of play. Five minutes later, a long kick was chested down in the box by Santos towards a wide open Karol Swiderski. His shot went right towards Coronel who stood his ground for the block.

The ensuing corner ended with Coronel making another save from a long distance attempt. Another corner in the 39th minute saw the keeper make a diving save off a header to keep the clean sheet in tact. At that point, Charlotte could have realistically been up 3-1.

Coronel admitted that Charlotte is one of the best teams he’s played against in MLS. Especially, he noted, down the middle of the field.

“Yes, of course. We played a really good game from our end, but Charlotte plays very well,” the goalkeeper said. “We’re more for attacking, and that made a difference for us. And of course, teams like Charlotte will always make it harder for us but we were able to respond to him right away.”

As the game continued that flow developed further. Charlotte would hold the ball and attack, either getting stopped by the defense or Coronel. New York would counter up middle and work fast. The Bulls did much of what they accomplished quickly in the limited time they had. No build-up or heavy team passing. It was all trying to act on Charlotte mistakes or openings.

This was exemplified in the 55th minute. As Charlotte attempted to clear the ball Frankie Amaya jumped and headed it back towards goal. Manoel picked it up and struck a golazo from 20 yards out to double New York’s lead. For the forward, both goals were his first of the MLS season.

“I am very happy to be able to score both goals and be able to give my team three points,” he said after the game. “This is the start of many other goals, I’m really excited for the upcoming games.”

He nearly added a third in the 60th minute after Charlotte gave up possession in the RBNY end. A long pass found Manoel on the right side of the field charging toward the net. Looking like he had a lane to shoot, the forward instead passed off to the middle where Lewis Morgan shot wide left from the top of the box.

While CFC was taking 60 seconds plus to set up plays New York only needed a moment to threaten. With a two goal lead the threat of losing the clean sheet hung around and the atmosphere was never braggadocious. If the visitors got a goal back the feeling seemed to indicate a second would be scored before the final whistle. However Coronel and the defense held strong and the result held.

“For me, that actually gave us a lot of confidence for myself and also for my team,” Manoel said about the result. “As we all know this tournament now start from zero. Now we’re all moving forward and going for MLS Cup.”

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