|photo by Matt Kremkau
by Daniel Feuerstein
This series was exciting and hard-fought till the end. While it will sting very hard after a thrilling ten-round penalty shootout you can't deny that the Red Bulls gave it their all to force a third and final game in this brand-new first-round series. While they did play a complete 90 minutes against Charlotte FC in the Wild Card round, we all knew FC Cincinnati was going to match everything the Red Bulls did. In the first game, while getting shutout by a final of three goals to nil is not considered a good look, the truth is they still kept fighting and pressing til the end.
The bad blunder from Andres Reyes to head the ball toward his own area from such a long distance allowed the home team at TQL Stadium to take advantage and put Carlos Coronel in a bad place. This forced him to abandon his net and try to slide the ball away, sadly having Luciano Acosta gain the advantage of a free shot. Also, Alvaro Barreal earned a brace with two fantastic shots to beat Coronel.
But the second game was like a boxing match. trading attacking runs and fighting for chances all over the pitch at Red Bull Arena, we saw a brand new derby between Cincy and the Red Bulls grow with pure animosity like we haven't seen before. When one hard tackle was created, another would be coming, there were moments I thought fists would be flying and there would've been a Royal Rumble breaking out at Red Bull Arena.
But it was an engaged crowd that finally saw their side take the lead late in the opening half as Tom Barlow received a deflected ball and took a quick shot, that did hit a flailing Celentano who couldn't trap it under his legs and got by him to give the Red Bulls a one-goal lead. The fans went crazy, the goal music was roaring and the Red Bulls were on cloud nine.
They never stopped pressing, and they never stopped attacking, even though they had a bad mishap allowing Aaron Boupendza to get by Reyes and just beat Coronel to the far post for the equalizer, the Red Bulls kept going. What we all thought was the end of the series as Cincinnati scored the match-winner, VAR finally intervened and wiped it out as Celentano fouled Coronel to allow his team to convert the chance. We were going to a penalty kick shootout.
But they were missing Troy Lesesne as he earned two yellows and then a red for his continuing harassment of the Referee. Carlos Coronel made two big saves in the shootout, but sadly John Tolkin who had the winning spot kick nailed the post, then later on in the ninth round Serge Ngoma skies it over the crossbar, and then Reyes got stopped by Celentano to send Cincinnati to the next round. What would've been a possible dream scenario for the Red Bulls from the Wild Card win to now would've been a miracle, but honestly, they were missing a lot of quality due to injury.
No Dante Vanzeir, and no Lewis Morgan who was missing the entire season due to injury. While it was nice to see Ngoma return, he's still not in full fitness to go the distance. But to be honest I thought this was the season they were going to fall short. I honestly thought their consecutive playoff appearance record was about to get wiped out. So if all of you are feeling angry and upset at how this all ended? Let's be fair here and say this was a miracle, they turned it on very late in the season to get this far.
They were still defending, they were still attacking, they were still doing two-thirds of the things you expect a Red Bulls side to do, but once again the quality against the current Supporters Shield winners to convert chances, was still not enough. I thought they would push this series into the full three games and head back to TQL Stadium, but sadly it wasn't meant to be. What you can say is when it looked grim and dark, the Red Bulls somehow found a way to get to the Promise Land and reached the postseason for the fourteenth consecutive time.
A gallant effort, but sadly another playoff failure to add to the list of not reaching the holy grail which is the MLS Cup Championship. We don't know what type of spending the front office will do, but we can only hope they will bring in some strong, quality players to improve this side that has some great pieces to push forward into a big turnaround for 2024. Until then, it's wait-and-see for next year.