|Photo by Matt Kremkau
If Harry Houdini could pull off the most amazing escape, or magic trick that would have you stunned and in disbelief, well the New York Red Bulls just topped it all with their biggest magic trick of the season. It all came down to the final day of the 2023 MLS regular season as this club that has been frustrating to watch has once again found a way to thumb their nose at all the nonbelievers and deliver a moment of magic that finally elevated them over the playoff line of the Eastern Conference.
While defending hard and attacking hard down at Geodis Park in Nashville, Tennessee, this New York Red Bulls side was looking for a magic moment or two, but couldn't get anything until the clock ticked towards second-half stoppage time, and then the magic was shown as referee Lukasz Szpala saw Luquinhas being fouled on the edge of the Nashville area and blew his whistle for the foul in the box, and pointed at the penalty spot.
Omir Fernandez and Frankie Amaya were subbed out of the match, so it was up to the Left Fullback in Chatham, NJ native John Tolkin to step up to the spot and make that magic happen. He converted in two penalty kick shootouts in the Leagues Cup, but never took a spot kick in a regular season match. He took his time and when the whistle blew, Tolkin ran up to the ball and tucked it inside the far post, when Nashville keeper Joe Willis dove to the near post.
The Red Bulls bench exploded, Tolkin ran to the far corner for the celebration and found a family of four wearing Red Bulls jerseys (Dad in Red, Daughter in the Daniel Patrick yellow, and son in the 50th-anniversary hip-hop & his youngest in an RBNY T-Shirt) in the front row. What an amazing night it was and with the amount of stoppage time left, the referee blew his whistle to signal to the rest of the League that the Red Bulls are back in the playoffs.
It's now officially fourteen consecutive seasons for this club since moving to Red Bull Arena away from their former home of Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands, they have never missed a beat reaching the postseason, after everything that happened to this club from the start in Orlando to the end in Nashville. From the Struber/Vanzeir incident to the changing of head coaches giving Troy Lesesne an opportunity, to some poor results, and all of a sudden within these final five matches with four wins to put themselves into contention to get back to the promised land.
They finished on a three-match winning streak and a three-match road winning streak. They defeated DC United, FC Cincinnati & finally Nashville, while they earned a home win against Toronto FC. Now they will be ready to take on Charlotte FC who defeated Inter Miami to push down CF Montreal, who lost on the road in Columbus, who were knocked out of a playoff position with this victory by the Red Bulls. A lot of emotions are coursing through your veins.
But while this victory is the sweetest of them all Troy Lesesne found a way to get this squad ready to play and put out a game plan to have all the players prepared and ready to go. Finally, we saw Luquinhas show how dangerous he can be when he has the ball, Carlos Coronel fixed his form and made some spectacular saves to keep their opposition off the scoreboard. Now they have an opponent and a time for Wednesday, October 25th as they will host Charlotte FC in the Wild Card game at Red Bull Arena. It's time to fill the Arena and make it a fortress it can be.