The New York Red Bulls’ season isn’t over, but Wednesday’s game against Austin FC felt like a death rattle.
At 31 points (7 wins, 10 draws, 12 loses), New York is 14th in the Eastern Conference.

Despite only being five points out from the playoff line with a game in hand, that feels out of reach. 

The team’s last win came over a month ago, on August 20th, to D.C. United. The same team New York faces tomorrow.

Apathy vs. Austin

RBNY was, and still is, a team fighting for its life to make the playoffs. The starting lineup having Elias Manoel and Dante Vanzier up top showed some merit to that. Tom Barlow began the game on the bench. Even when circumstances required an early sub, Barlow stayed on the bench.

Wednesday saw the best first half New York has had this season. Attacks from Elias Manoel early and John Tolkin were massive momentum grabbers. Yet RBNY’s only goal came off an Austin player. Dante Vanzeir’s shot in the 7th minute hit off defender Emiliano Rigoni and into the net to make it 1-0. New York looked poised to extend their lead for the rest of the half. The home side led in possession (over 60%), and Austin had no shots nearing the 45-minute mark. 

But AFC’s first shot of the game was the most important. A corner kick in the 44th minute found Sebastián Driussi, who headed in the tying goal. It was one of only three shots Austin had all game, the only one on target.

The goal deflated fans and, seemingly, players. However, it was tough to gauge the former. While New York announced an attendance of around 13,000, it did not feel like that. The midweek affair felt closer to sub 8,000. You could clearly hear players on the bench and field from close enough.

The traveling Austin fans looked more organized than the South Ward.

New York took its foot off the gas, and Austin gathered more possession time. The game never felt like it was going to swing back for New York. It’s that simple.

Dante Vanzeir Shutdown

It’s hard to describe why Dante Vanzeir going down in the first 20 minutes means so much.

The 25-year-old Belgian was undercut by Austin midfielder Daniel Pereira while going for an airball outside the visitors’ box. He fell onto his back and tried to get up before going down again. The game stopped for a few minutes before Vanzeir slowly walked off the pitch. He went to the locker room and wasn’t seen again. Omir Fernandez officially replaced him in the 14th minute.

On Friday, the team announced Vanzeir had suffered a lumbar spine injury. He will not play again in 2023.

Vanzeir’s loss isn’t huge on paper. The striker has scored five goals this season, tied for the most across all competitions. But a month-long suspension for a racial outburst against San Jose and injuries sidelined him constantly.

But on the field, Vanzeir was probably the best offensive player New York has had this season. The speed, ball ability, and pass-making from the Belgian was a clear force behind attacks. One could argue the low amount of goals RBNY has scored undercuts that. But on a team where Frankie Amaya leads regular season goals (4), it does stand out.

Reserves Getting Ready?

While the first team struggles at the end of the season, New York Red Bulls II is another story. The team has clinched a spot in the MLS Next Pro playoffs for next weekend.

Forward Ibrahim Kasule, who made his first-team debut against New England earlier this month, has 15 goals in Next Pro. Julian Hall and Tanner Rosborough, recent signings from the RBNY academy, have been getting professional minutes. The team is close to jumping into the top half of the playoff bracket. A home match would come with that.

When asked by NYCSN, Lesesne said plenty of those younger players have grown over the season. With injuries piling up, there is a chance some of them could be brought up for first-team minutes.

“It’s absolutely possible,” Lesesne said during mid-week training.

“That’s dependent upon their performance number one, and do they earn that with what they’re doing on the second team. I think with some guys, you’ve seen that throughout the year. [Ibrahim] Kasule has been able to step into our roster and be able to have one appearance. Omar Valencia is someone who has been able to come into the roster and hasn’t gotten an appearance yet, but he is really happy with his progress.

“I think we’re looking at a lot of different players always from the second team because they’re having a really good year, and there’s a lot of development has taken place there. And certainly, those two players that you mentioned in Julian Hall and Tanner, they just took that next step of signing professional contracts, and both have earned that fully by what they did in the academy, what they’ve now done on the second team, and now if they get the next opportunity with the first team, it’ll be because they’ve earned it, and because they’re ready.”

Do Or Die (Again) In D.C.

It feels like the past two games have been must-win for the Red Bulls. Calling Saturday’s match against D.C. United, the same feels like cheating. But the Atlantic Cup rival currently sits in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

United have tied in their last three games, similar to New York’s performance in its last two. Both teams are stuttering when they need points badly. In fact, United only has one win in its last eight matches.

New York needs to win its second road game of the season on Saturday if it wants to dream. A win by D.C. would get them closer to reaching the postseason for the first time since 2019.

“Typically, I think against D.C., that’s going to turn into a dogfight at some point,” midfielder Daniel Edelman said.

“It always goes back to that old-school rivalry between both Red Bulls and D.C. Coming into their place, I think they might try to play out, but we can see that, like against Austin, against New York City, teams like to quickly adapt to the way we play and look to resort to going long and playing super direct. So we’re going to be keen on that they can change their tactics and any point in the game, but they got a good side, and they’re very expansive, and we’ll try to take advantage of that.”

More important than the teams on the field, however, will be the weather in the sky. A powerful tropical storm is set to hit the nation’s capital this weekend.

A coastal flood watch has been issued, and 2-3 inches of rain is expected. United’s Audi Field is not covered, meaning the fate of the game rests on the wind.

More than likely, the match will be postponed.

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