New York Red Bulls make statement in Wild Card rout: "Not too bad, huh?"


If anybody was doubting the New York Red Bulls heading into the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, they probably aren’t anymore.

Delivering one of their best performances of the year, RBNY blew out Charlotte FC, 5-2, in Wednesday’s Eastern Conference Wild Card match to book a Round One Best-of-3 showdown with Supporters’ Shield-winners FC Cincinnati.

Elias Manoel’s hat trick (10’, 37’, 78’) set the tone and Tom Barlow (56’) scored the eventual game-winner, but it was John Tolkin who really got the 16,074 fans at Red Bull Arena going with a stunning 26th-minute free-kick golazo.

“He deserves more credit for not only what he does against the ball, but what he does with the ball,” head coach Troy Lesesne of the rising 21-year-old homegrown left back, who also added a pair of assists on the night. “This free kick is just special, this has nothing to do with anything coaching.

“This is JMi again stepping up and creating a big moment.”

Tolkin himself was motivated by some extra words of encouragement from teammate Kyle Duncan before he took the kick.

"I just heard Kyle Duncan behind me. He's like 'Show me something, show me something.' And, yeah, I guess I had to show something," Tolkin told MLS Wrap-Up after the match. "Luckily it was able to go in. Not too bad, huh?"

Elias Manoel lives his dream

Big moments were somewhat hard to come by for the Red Bulls throughout the year, particularly those of the scoring variety. With the East’s third-lowest goal total (36), New York were unlikely candidates to explode for five on the night – much less in a cagey playoff atmosphere.

And yet they did just that, with Manoel perhaps best exemplifying their surprising offensive outburst. The 21-year-old Brazilian striker matched his entire 2023 regular-season output of three tallies with a hat trick that couldn’t have come at a better time.

“For me, Elias is absolutely hitting form,” Lesesne said. “He was hitting form in June and July, and then he got injured. And that was unfortunate because I thought he was really building momentum and then there was a setback there for him.”

Manoel himself was thrilled with all three strikes on the night, but his second – a right-footed curler into the upper right-hand corner – had an almost supernatural feel for the forward.

“The second goal actually I dreamt about last night,” the former Grêmio player said. “The way the ball was curving, that was exactly my dream.”

What additional dreams may await Manoel in the nights leading up to Sunday’s (8 pm ET | Apple TV - Free, FS1, Fox Deportes) Round One Best-of-3 opener against Cincinnati at TQL Stadium?

“I hope to score more goals, not only against Charlotte, so our team goes farther and farther in this competition,” he stated.

Manoel actually scored the 2-1 game-winner for RBNY at Cincy earlier this month – spurring a three-game winning streak to end the season that pushed them into the playoffs. As an added bonus, the Red Bulls will have a chance at revenge against the team that eliminated them from last year’s postseason.

But what most concerns Lesesne right now are the defensive lapses that allowed Charlotte to make something of a game of it in the second half on goals from Kerwin Vargas (49’) and Patrick Agyemang (64’).

“We need to manage the game really well and I don't think we did that in the second half,” Lesesne said. “I mean, they score five minutes into the second half, and we give away a silly foul and we don't control that moment very well.

“… My focus now is on Cincinnati. If we play like we did in the second half, then we’re going to have problems on Sunday.”