Red Bulls Spice up the Race for Final Playoff Spot

Written by on August 23, 2023


By: Brandon “Mazz” Marrazzo

Sunday, August 20th, Harrison New Jersey. The sea of fans start to fill the 25,000-capacity Red Bulls Arena. Tonight’s match-up puts the 11th-placed New York Red Bulls (6-8-9)  against the number 9th-ranked D.C. United (8-6-10) in an Eastern Conference clash that could play a leading factor in which one potentially squeaks into the 2023 Audi MLS Playoffs. Only separated by four points on the table, the game may seem like an ordinary match-up but both fan bases know this could be a loss that comes back to haunt with only ten games left in the regular season. 

The Red Bulls have had a rocky season as they still await for someone to take the scoring reins as new transfer  Scottish-born midfielder Lewis Morgan (15 goals) did last season. Head coach Troy Lesesne, took control of the club back in May and has given some stability with a current 8-5-5 across all competitions heading into this matchup. On the opposing sideline will be Premier League legend, Wayne Rooney, who is also in his inaugural season as an MLS Head Coach. 


Both teams will be without some big names tonight-

D.C. Injuries:                                                          – Red Bulls Injuries:

  Martin Rodriguez (knee) Serge Ngoma (hamstring)

  Mohanad Jeahze (leg)             Lewis Morgan (hip)

  Nigel Robertha (thigh)             Steven Sserwadda (knee)

  Mateusz Klich (red card) Dylan Nealis (hip)


The rhythmic beat of the Red Bulls’ supporter section fills the air as the game kicks off. New York in their classic red kits and D.C. in opposing whites. Both teams start off feeling each other out. United’s attack almost breaks through early on, but crucial tackles from Red Bull’s Centre-Back duo Andres Reyes and captain Sean Nealis intervene. 

In the 28th minute Lesesne decides to make a change and brings in Tom Barlow for Dante Vanzeir. Just then the urgency in the game cranks up and a plethora of through balls from both squads is squandered by quality defense. Then in the 36th minute after multiple stern talkings to both sides, referee John Freeman decides to hand out his first yellow number to D.C. ‘s number 8 Chris Durkin. The Red Bulls quickly looked to capitalize on the momentum, picking up the pace and a shot from Dru Yearwood leaves United keeper Tyler Miller unfazed in the 37th. 

Another potential scoring opportunity is turned away from United with a breathtaking  tackle in the box from Nealis. NY’s Luquinhas found some space in the 41st and decides to test Miller with a weak curved shot, and  another save goes on the books for Miller. The team’s head to halftime with New York slightly leading  54% to 46% possession. 

Back from half, both teams are still looking for a goal and begin feeling eachother out jockeying for field position.Not much happens until the 54th minute when D.C. defender Derrick Williams earns a yellow by barreling  through a RB midfielder like a panda through a bushel of bamboo. Rooney doesn’t look to be satisfied with his team’s current play and in the 65th he brings in Andy Najer and Ted Ku Dipietro for Ruan and Christian Dajome. Not to be beaten by fresh legs, Lesesne decides he will also make two substitutions for Red Bulls  in the 67th with Kyle Duncan and Peter Stroud in for Drew Yearwood and Omir Fernandez. 

Business starts to pick up in the 75th minute when NY midfielder Cameron Harper ends up right in front of goal and  misses a close chance. Not soon after in the78th Reyes picks up a yellow. Rooney again goes to the bench in the 79th, this time trying to generate more attacking by bringing in Jose Fajardo for Gabriel Pirani. United found some footing and almost broke through the Red Bulls defensive line in the 82nd, but Duncan made a risky tackle stopping the counter and picked up a yellow for his effort. Lesesne decides his club could use a spark and bring in Venezuela wonderkind Wiki Carmona in the 85th.

 The game begins to have a strange feeling, even though there hasn’t been a tone of action on the offensive side, a goal just seems like it is on the verge of making an appearance. And it came from the unlikeliest of places in the 87th, when USA national  John “JMi”  Tolkin lines up just outside the box and rips a free kick low and near post, beating the wall and Miller. The goal was the first of the game and the first of the season for Tolkin. Just when Red bulls needed one, a well known but unlikely name steps up for the big moment. One more sub for United in the 89th of Yamil Asad for Pedro Santos and six minutes of extra time later, The final whistle blows and Red Bulls are victorious. The defense didn’t even let up a single shot on goal the entire game. Starting goalkeeper Carlos Coronel had some praise for his back line…

“That’s what I expect from players like this with quality. Andres [Reyes], Sean [Nealis], JMi [John Tolkin] and the other players in the backline, so they did a really good job and we are so happy with that.”

Things are looking up for the Red Bulls as they are now one step closer to meeting their goal of making it into the playoffs with a fiery fanbase backing them. Coach Lasesne had some words on his squad, but it was the comment on the fans that really catches  the ear-

‘…The crowd was fantastic tonight. Everyone’s so excited about next weekend and for the right reasons there’s no doubt about that. But tonight though,  our fans showed up… they pushed us in that last ten minutes. And we’re very appreciative of that and that’s something we have to reciprocate, the energy they bring to every match.” – Coach Troy Lesesne

Of course the next weekend matchup that is creating all the excitement, features the Red Bulls again defending their home field but this time Inter Miami and Lionel Messi come to town fresh off their recent Leagues cup victory. The pressure is on for NY as they take on what some would say is the greatest of all time in Messi, but there are a couple of defenders who seem to be excited for the challenge.

“I’m not even worried about that… it will be pretty crazy looking across the field and seeing [Lionel] Messi. I don’t care how hard it is, that’s just a dream come true. I’m super excited and I can’t wait man, it’s gonna be super cool.” – John ‘JMi’ Tolkin

“That’s part of the job, I think you kind of look forward to those. You want to step your game up and I think it kind of grows you as a player… I look forward to those, especially against high end players, and it will be a big test next week if that comes in the game.” – Sean Nealis when asked what it is like defending one on one in crucial situations.

A win next week would put the whole league on notice, but only time will tell

‘ what the futbol gods have in store for the New York Red Bulls this season.