|photo by Matt Kremkau
HARRISON, NJ - Red Bulls needed a win in their final home match of the season, and they got it thanks to Elias Manoel scoring twice as they silenced Charlotte FC 2-0.
The Red Bulls were still smarting from the 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew last weekend as former midfielder Derrick Etienne Jr. scored twice, the winning goal in stoppage time to keep his team's playoff chances alive in the process. They looked toward the match on Saturday as the last chance to boost their confidence going into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Charlotte FC's playoff chances were extinguished by a 2-2 draw with the same Columbus Crew side back on Wednesday.
With their playoff ticket already punched for the 13th straight time, the only thing left is to secure a home playoff match, their first home match since that Supporters Shield winning season in 2018.
The Red Bulls were able to get the jump on the visitors in the 8th minute. Lewis Morgan unleashed a rocket of a shot that caused Charlotte goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega to dive to his left to make a save. However, the loose ball from the rebound found the feet of Elias Manoel, and the Brazilian forward wasted no time scoring his first goal in MLS, blasting the ball at the top left corner of the back of the net for the one-goal lead for the home side.
Red Bulls doubled their advantage in the 55th minute. Amaya keeping the play alive, headed the ball back to Manoel, who spun around, shook the defenders free, and then unleashed a rocket shot at the upper right corner to the back of the net from outside the box, bringing the supporters to their feet roaring in approval.
Charlotte pressed to get on the scoreboard and nearly did so in the 84th minute when Nuno Santos got free from outside the box and took a shot from long range, but his attempt whistled wide to the left. From there, goalkeeper Carlos Coronel and Red Bulls' defense did the rest, sealing the win - their fifteenth of the season, his eighth clean sheet of the season, and finally, the home playoff game next week against FC Cincinnati.
THE BIG PICTURE:
It certainly wasn't pretty, and head coach Gerhard Struber said as much during the post-match press conference:
"I think the game today was not always in every direction, a sexy picture, how we press, how we come into transition moments, are not always what we can do on this level."
However, the team was able to anchor Charlotte's attackers, keeping them nearly silent despite having the lion's share of possession during the match:
"We also had the first 25 minutes more control with a different set setup today, how we press, that we find not always victory with the point. Come outside together, synchronized, and were super happy with that. In the end, I think our defending moments were good from Carlos, of course, and I would say sometimes was on a very, very good level today; Sean and Andres they fight together for a good result for the clean sheet, and John Tolkien, again, very, very reliable in so many directions and he leads us on an excellent level.
Yeah, I would say this game helps us from the confidence side, from the conviction to do it in a successful way the next game. It's playoff time. It's different. It's an entirely different mental demand what's coming on us, but this game gives us hope."
The win was needed for a confidence boost as they prepare to host the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since 2018. And from the look of things, they will need it as they face a red-hot FC Cincinnati side firing on all cylinders and with all the confidence of a winning side.