|photo by Matt Kremkau
HARRISON, NJ - Brandon Vasquez's late goal was all FC Cincinnati needed to oust the New York Red Bulls from Saturday afternoon's first round of the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.
For the 13th consecutive season, the New York Red Bulls qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs. Standing directly in their path to the next round is a deep and offensively talented FC Cincinnati team looking to break free from their wooden spoon finishes in the past to being well on their way to becoming one of the elite sides in the Eastern Conference, if not all of Major League Soccer.
For Gerhard Struber and his team, the opportunity is there for them to advance to the next round, something they hadn't done since 2018, when they advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Final, losing to the eventual MLS Cup champions, Atlanta United. Struber is looking to change his team's fortunes for the third time under his stewardship, but only this time, the stage is at Red Bull Arena after the last two exits were done on the road.
The last time these two sides met on August 20 was a tight, testy, and tense affair as the match ended with a 1-1 draw. Former NYRB academy standout Matt Miazga scored the opener. Still, Patryk Klimala pulled it back even with a converted penalty kick, with neither team breaking free from the deadlocked stalemate.
But in the 48th minute, midfielder Lewis Morgan had other ideas. And Morgan smashed the ball at the top left corner of the net to give his team the lead. But the celebration was short-lived, as he was immediately substituted for Dylan Nealis while a crestfallen Mogan headed into the tunnel for treatment.
FC Cincinnati equalized in the 60th minute. After Frankie Amaya fouled Alvas Powell, setting up a set piece. Junior Moreno served the ball into the scrum, and somehow, it wound up in the back of the net. However, luckily for the Red Bulls, Cameron was found to be in an offside position as the ball glanced off him and into the net, nullifying the goal.
But, FC Cincinnati was given a massive lifeline in the 72nd minute, with the team looking dangerous in every possession; their hard work was well rewarded when defender Andres Reyes fouled Alvaro Barreal in the box, earning the penalty kick. Luciano Acosta converted the penalty shortly afterward, and the match was deadlocked at one goal apiece.
But the definitive moment of the match was when defender Kyle Duncan and Daniel Edelman got a little too careless with the ball during a throw-in, with Edelman trying to head it back over to Duncan but badly fumbling the exchange. Cincinnati's midfielder Obinna Nwobodo immediately pounced on the error and kicked the ball down the field, where Sergio Santos beat Dylan Nealis to the ball.
Santos then passed the ball over to a wide-open Bandon Vazquez, and he scored the back-breaking goal, putting the visitors ahead and putting the Red Bulls' season in severe jeopardy as some of the fans, many of them who made the long trip to the arena, started to head to the exits.
Despite having over 12 minutes of stoppage time in the second half, the Red Bulls wasted several scoring chances as the final whistle was blown, cementing a disappointing loss. And once again, Gerhard Struber and his team go down in a bitter defeat.
THE BIG PICTURE:
It looks like, for once, the pundits and experts were right. A young team, while talented, was no match against a squad with veteran players who had the will to win. The Red Bulls' thirteenth consecutive exit from the playoffs falls far short of their elusive goal of winning the MLS Cup. While FC Cincinnati deservedly moves on to face the Philadelphia Union on Thursday, the New York Red Bulls are now looking at an offseason full of uncertainty. And a renewed sense of hope once February rolls around and the chase for the championship begins again.