Homegrown left-back John Tolkin claimed earlier this week that the Red Bulls perform better when their backs are against the wall, but ultimately New York were put under pressure as they could not survive a penalty shootout against FC Cincinnati.
After being defeated 3-0 in the opening match, the Red Bulls returned to New Jersey for a must-win match against the No. 1 seed.
The Red Bulls have had a must-win mentality for more than a month. They won four of their last five regular season games, including a last-minute Decision Day win in Nashville to advance to the postseason. They then dominated Charlotte 5-2 in the Wild Card matchup to seal their spot in the first round.
And that grit and determination that was needed was once again found in abundance in New Jersey.
But perseverance alone against the Supporters’ Shield winners wasn’t enough as Aaron Boupendza’s second-half strike canceled out Tom Barlow’s 45th-minute opener, forcing ten rounds of penalty kicks where New York found themselves without a head coach Troy couldn’t get out. Lesense who was sent to the stands after his second yellow card.
FC Cincinnati emerged victorious from a penalty shootout to eliminate New York Red Bulls
Tom Barlow opened the scoring for the hosts in a must-win Game 2 at the Red Bull Arena
Tom Barlow’s effort deflected off Roman Celentano’s thigh and landed in the screamer
Chasing a crucial win, New York came out with high intensity, with Daniel Edelman and Luquinhas continually coming forward and finding promise on the left side throughout the first half.
And just five minutes later their pressure seemed to pay off when John Tolkin was brought down in the penalty area, but the referee did not award a penalty and VAR was not even called into action, sending Red Bull Arena to red.
In the 21st minute, Elias Manoel sent two Cincinnati defenders into skidding before firing a shot that eventually brought the crowd to its feet, but it painfully flew over the crossbar and failed to give the hosts a crucial opener.
But chances alone were not good enough and with every chance that was not converted into a goal, the despair in the stadium seemed to increase even further.
New York looked ready to rue their squandered chances when the No. 1 came alive as Dominique Badji burst past the Red Bulls’ backline into the penalty area in the 25th minute. It looked like the Red Bulls were all but guaranteed to have given up their hopes of gaining the advantage over their opponents, but Carlos saved them by blocking Badji’s thumping effort.
It was the final contribution from the Senegalese forward who left the match just ten minutes later after treatment on the pitch and was replaced by Boupendza.
The intensive and physical game had a number of challenges that led to confrontations
But New York were ruthless and refused to concede any ground to the visitors, and Barlow finally scored the vital goal on the brink of half-time.
Initially the striker appeared to have squandered another chance for the Red Bulls as he rushed to get the ball from under his feet before firing his shot straight at Roman Celentano, but luckily for New York the shot ricocheted off the thigh from the diving goalkeeper and ran over his back. leg and into the goal.
But it wasn’t over yet. Lesesne and his team went into halftime knowing that the job was only half done and that there were still 45 minutes to wait before safety could be considered guaranteed.
And as the minutes of the second half passed, corners began to be celebrated as goals, saves as championships.
But the stadium fell silent in the 75th minute as Luciano Acosta weaved his way through New York’s defense before passing the ball to Cincinnati substitute Boupendza, who pulled the trigger and eventually beat Carlos.
Cincinnati had several chances to win the match in regular time and appeared to have done so in the final minute of extra time.
Aaron Boupendza (center) replaced Dominique Badji, who left the match due to an injury
But VAR disallowed the match for a foul on Carlos, sending the game into a penalty shootout, which the Red Bulls had to navigate without head coach Lesesne, who was sent off in stoppage time after a second yellow card.
Santiago Arias gave New York a lifeline when he missed Cincinnati’s third, but ironically it was local boy Tolkin who couldn’t produce when his back was against the wall and missed when given the opportunity to get a return trip to to secure the TQL Stadium.
In the ninth round, Carlos, again the man of the hour, saved Yerson Mosquera’s but Serge Ngoma could not finish the job for the hosts before Junior Moreno scored for Cincinnati and Celentano saved Andre Reyes’ attempt to win the shootout 8. -7 and knocking New York out of the playoffs.
The Red Bulls haven’t won a play-off game since 2018 and despite their best efforts not to be stifled by the pressure on Saturday night, that streak remains crushingly intact.