"Pivotal moment" in Red Bulls season? Wild DC win sparks playoff hope


Wild, wet and chaotic?

It didn't matter Saturday night for the New York Red Bulls, who picked up a massive victory by spoiling Christian Benteke’s hat-trick and defeating D.C. United, 5-3, in an eight-goal thriller at rainy Audi Field.

The victory draws the Red Bulls to within two points of D.C. for the ninth-and-final Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs spot in the Eastern Conference as they look to extend their postseason streak to 14 consecutive seasons. As of Matchday 34, six clubs in the East have already punched their ticket to the postseason, leaving eight remaining teams to vie for the final three spots.

“I’ve been proud of the group over the past few weeks, but how they were able to go on the road, get our second road win of the year against a team that we’re obviously fighting [with] for a playoff spot, and ultimately score five goals, there’s a lot that went right tonight and I think the group feels really good about that – and they should,” head coach Troy Lesesne told reporters postgame.

“Even though it was kind of a crazy game and it’s back-and-forth, I think that tells you where this group’s mentality is: They’re not giving up. We don’t see any end of the season in sight. We still have full belief that we can achieve something and make the playoffs, and I’m really, really proud of the group.”

It was just New York’s second win in their last 17 regular-season away matches – dating back to last September – and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The victory snaps a five-game winless streak, as the Red Bulls scored a season-high five times to overcome a pair of first-half deficits. Omir Fernandez opened the scoring en route to a brace before Cameron Harper leveled the match at three right before halftime, sending the visitors into the break on even ground despite Benteke's first-half hat trick.

With momentum on their side, second-half goals from captain Sean Nealis and defender John Tolkin helped secure all three points, capping off a rain-filled, yet memorable evening at Audi Field.

“Every game is do-or-die"

For Lesesne, it was the type of resilient performance that could prove to be a turning point in the Red Bulls’ season.

“This is a young group and for them to realize all three points tonight – in a big way – and the way that we did it, I really, really think that it could be a really pivotal moment in the season… for us to push on and try to make some noise here in the last couple of weeks,” said Lesesne.

The coach hopes his side will be able to carry this feeling (and form) into another pivotal matchup next Saturday at home vs. Chicago Fire FC (7:30 pm ET | Apple TV - MLS Season Pass). The two sides are level on points in the East, making the stakes that much higher at Red Bull Arena.

“It’s must-win at this point. There’s no ‘Oh, there’s next week, or next week.’ No. Every game’s got to be a win. No ties. No losses. We have to go in with a mindset that it’s do-or-die,” concluded Harper. “Every game is do-or-die, and that’s the mindset that I have, and that’s the mindset that Troy’s trying to implement into us.

“It’s there for us, so we know what we have to do.”