New York Red Bulls' forward Tom Barlow celebrates after scoring the eventual game winning goal against Toronto FC on Saturday, October 7, 2023 at Red Bull Arena. The result, a 3-0 win, keeps New York alive in the playoff race heading into the final week. (Credit: New York Red Bulls)
New York Red Bulls’ forward Tom Barlow celebrates after scoring the eventual game winning goal against Toronto FC on Saturday, October 7, 2023 at Red Bull Arena. The result, a 3-0 win, keeps New York alive in the playoff race heading into the final week. (Credit: New York Red Bulls)

The New York Red Bulls are still alive for the MLS Cup Playoffs. That comes after a 3-0 win over Toronto FC at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night. The final home regular season match saw two goals from Luquinhas and Tom Barlow.

The result was not surprising (though Barlow scoring might be). Toronto has lost six straight matches in all competitions and 16 of its last 17. The loss officially earned TFC the 2023 ‘Anthony Precourt Wooden Spoon” for lowest finishing team in the league.

With Andrés Reyes suspended due to yellow card accumulation, Hassan Ndam returned to the starting XI. His first start since being red carded against Chicago in the team’s last home match. On Saturday, he played 45 minutes, had a shot, and committed no fouls. A decent night for someone whose contract is up at the end of the season. He left the game at halftime for Dylan Nealis, with Troy Lesesne saying the defender felt like he had a “muscle injury”.

The attacking three of Tom Barlow, Elias Manoel, and Luquinhas were targeted all night as New York held possession. Manoel hit the side netting in the sixth minute, though Toronto countered. Federico Bernardeschi sent a long pass to Jonathan Osorio. A run on the left side gave up a low shot, under pressure, easily saved by Carlos Coronel. That would be Toronto’s only shot of the first half and it’s only shot on target all game.

While New York controlled the ball it lacked killer chances against Toronto keeper Luka Gavran. The TFC man made his first save in the 23rd minute when Frankie Amaya shot from the right. The ball remained in play and eventually fell towards John Tolkin on the left side. His cross found Omir Fernandez in front of the net, under pressure, but his attempt went wide right.

“I was a little bit disappointed with in the first half,” coach Troy Lesesne said after the game. “Toronto was settling into the game a little too much.”

After a Sean Nealis error nearly gave Toronto a breakaway chance in the 34th, Toronto tried to get to the half level. But that changed in the 45th minute. Former USMNT star Michael Bradley passed the ball from Toronto’s box to Alonso Coello, who passed it back. Bradley, a former MetroStar, bobbed the ball and allowed Elias Manoel to win the ball. A quick cross in found Tom Barlow, who simply redirected it into the net.

“It was big, we had a few chances, their keeper made a couple good saves,” Barlow said. “Omir [Fernandez] had a couple good chances. Elias [Manoel] did all the work, put a lot of pressure on them and made a great steal and then a perfect pass, so the finish was the easy part. It was a good play, and it got the momentum going for us going into halftime. We came out in the second half and scored another early goal, so it was a good feeling and a big win for us.”

Barlow’s goal was his third of the season and the third of his career against Toronto FC.

After the break, New York had the momentum. Just three minutes in Elias Manoel cut passed to Luquinhas just past midfield. The Brazilian ran down the center, shot low, and got the ball past Gavran’s left side to make it 2-0.

In the 65th minute, he doubled his total. Kyle Duncan got into the right corner of the box before passing through traffic towards Luquinhas. He eluded Toronto’s Kobe Franklin and lifted a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner.

Despite the score, New York searched for more goals. An 83rd minute chance by Frankie Amaya sailed over the TFC net and was RBNY’s best look at a fourth. While New York was winning, D.C. United was beating NYCFC, 2-0, meaning the two teams were tied on points. But United held the goal differential tie-breaker. Lesesne said afterwards that his team was aware and playing hard because of that.

“I expected for us to score three goals,” Lesesne said with a smile when asked about the situation by NYCSN. “To have a question like ‘hey why didn’t you score the fourth tonight,’ that’s about on par for 2023.”

Another note from the match was John Tolkin. The defender, who was named to the U.S. Olympic Men’s National Team, came off in the 78th minute. He left from the far side of the field, making sure to walk past and applaud the South Ward fans as he did so. Interest in the defender is high. Talks about him leaving the team via a sale have been rumored. So fans made sure to applaud the New Jersey native in what might be his last match at Red Bull Arena. After the game, Viking Army and Empire SC named him the 2023 RBNY Player of the Year.

Things aren’t over for RBNY. Before Decision Day, the team needs to watch how Charlotte FC do against Inter Miami CF on Wednesday, Oct. 18. If Charlotte beats the eliminated Miami at home, they will jump New York heading into that Saturday’s final day. That would mean New York needs a win and help to reach the playoffs. Specifically, Inter Miami beating Charlotte in Florida or Columbus Crew beating CF Montreal.

Chicago Fire are tied with RBNY at 40 points just outside of the playoff bubble. NYCFC is also within striking distance at 38 points. Those two teams face off on Decision Day, Oct. 21. The aforementioned Montreal has 41 points and is in eighth. Funnily, D.C. United is currently in the final playoff spot with 40 points, but is eliminated. The team, which has played all its games. will be jumped due to Chicago and New York City playing one another, meaning someone has to earn points.

In the end, New York realistically needs three points against Nashville SC in two weeks. Their opponent may or may not be playing for higher seeding in the playoffs that day. That matter will come down to if NSC can beat the New England Revolution ahead of the final day.

“We have to look at ourselves and say we need to have a very good defensive output in this match away from home at their place,” Lesesne said. “From the standpoint that we want to try to limit them in transition, in set pieces they’re incredibly dangerous. They have great service, great targets, so we’re going to have to shore that up.”

Though, following the post game press conference, Lesesne took time to address the RBNY fans directly. After seeing the team struggle in multiple ways. Poor results, controversy, and losing a coach mid-season. The South Carolina native wasn’t shy in saying how much that meant to the group. And that the team wants to reward them more in the playoffs.

“I’d really like to thank our supporters. You know, tonight was our last regular season home match. And we want to recognize them and all the support that they’ve given us this year, through again, maybe the most difficult season in Red Bulls history in the last 10-12 years. But I also want to say that hopefully we’re going to provide another home match for them ,and that could look like us potentially hosting a play-in match. It could look like if we progress in the first round, it’s a home and away fixture. So, our goal is that we’re not done yet. We want to provide another home match.”

Barlow was similar in his tone, knowing New York is one result away from controlling it’s own playoff destiny.

“We’ll get ready these next couple of weeks for that big game. (The fans) have to be ready too. Cheer us on and we’ll get the three points.”

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