The New York Red Bulls fell in penalties to FC Cincinnati in Match Two of Round One of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs. The result officially eliminated the Red Bulls after having lost 3-0 to Cincinnati in Match One.

Red Bulls Eliminated From 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs

For a record fourteenth straight year on Saturday, Nov. 4, the New York Red Bulls were eliminated from the MLS Cup Playoffs after losing in penalties to Supporters’ Shield winners FC Cincinnati in game two of the Round One Best-of-Three series. Once again, the Red Bulls fell short of MLS Cup, the ultimate trophy that has evaded New York’s original Major League Soccer club since its inception in 1996.

After a humbling 3-0 defeat away at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati in the first match, the Red Bulls needed to win in the return leg at Red Bull Arena the following Saturday in order to force a decisive third match. Despite a first half goal from Tom Barlow and a much more sound defensive performance from New York than what they showed in Cincinnati, Cincy substitute Aaron Boupendza would send the match to penalties with his 78th minute equalizer where the Orange and Blue would ultimately advance after ten rounds of spot-kicks, eight to seven.

From left to right, New York Red Bulls players JMi Tolkin, Cameron Harper (17), Serge Ngoma, Omir Fernandez and Matt Nocita (3) react after falling in penalties to FC Cincinnati and officially being eliminated from the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs.

In remarkably painful Metro fashion, the Red Bulls had two chances in penalties to win the match and force another trip to Cincinnati but both JMi Tolkin and Serge Ngoma failed to convert their kicks, hitting the post and floating the ball over the goal respectively. Both Tolkin and Ngoma are homegrown products from New York’s highly touted academy, with the 18-year-old Ngoma making just his second appearance of 2023 after missing lots of time due to injury and the 21-year-old Tolkin having emerged as a star left back for the Red Bulls over the last few seasons, having already notched two decisive penalties on the season, the most recent of which directly qualified New York for the playoffs on Decision Day against Nashville S.C.

Striker Tom Barlow remained encouraging about his young teammates following the match. “Those guys are unbelievable, that’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Barlow told attending media. “Unfortunate, but we’re a tight group, we stick together and we’ll get through this.”

Red Bulls Head Coach Troy Lesesne applauded his group’s effort not only throughout the 90 minutes on Saturday but since his assumption of the managerial position in early May. “We were bottom of the table and the players had a choice to make. We can stay in that position, or we can fight, and every single step of the way from May 8th until where we are today, even towards the end of that game and penalties, there is no quit in this group. And that’s something that you have to respect,” Lesesne said. “But when it comes to that type of mentality, I told the players the last thing and that statement was that this is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives and it’s an important learning lesson in their careers. So, they can always stay true to that. And if you default to that type of mentality, you’re going to be alright.”

Lesesne also showed gratitude toward the club for giving him his first head coaching opportunity at the MLS level. “This is a massive club that has a tremendous history. Someone with my profile, if you don’t look at the details of it, maybe you go to the next candidate,” Lesesne said. “That’s why I have so much gratitude towards them. I think what you do with gratitude is you try to provide good work, and I think that is what we have done as a collective and I think there is more work to do. I’m hopeful of that for the future.”

As for FC Cincy, they’ll face the fourth seed Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference semifinals, who defeated the New England Revolution in two matches in Round One. However, due to his antics during the match and penalty kicks, former New York Red Bulls homegrown favorite and current FC Cincinnati (and MLS Defensive Player of the Year candidate) center back Matt Miazga will be suspended for that one-off match in Cincinnati late November. Miazga was yellow carded by referee Victor Rivas for dissent following the conclusion of the 90 minutes, arguing on behalf of Lucho Acosta’s disallowed 93rd minute goal that would’ve been the winner. Miazga was shown a second yellow after converting his penalty during the shootout for gesturing a heart and blowing kisses to the fans, taunting the Red Bulls supporters in the South Ward. Because the yellow card was issued during the shootout, it does not accumulate into a sending off as MLS rules do not count yellow cards awarded during penalties towards the match. To make matters more complicated, in the days following the match reports surfaced that a player, later revealed to be Matt Miazga, broke Major League Soccer rules by gaining “unauthorized entry into the Officials’ locker room & was forcibly removed,” according to a statement issued by the Professional Soccer Referees Association.

FC Cincinnati defender Matt Miazga reacts to being shown his second yellow of Match Two in Round One of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs after taunting New York Red Bulls supporters during the penalty shootout.

With New York officially eliminated from the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, the focus shifts once again toward the offseason, with Red Bulls General Manager Marc deGrandpre and Head of Sport Jochen Schneider releasing a joint statement ensuring fans that 2023 fell below the club’s high standards for success. “While proud to have qualified for our 14th consecutive MLS Cup Playoff berth, this season simply did not meet the organizational standards we strive to deliver to the best fan base in all of Major League Soccer. The passion and fight our team displayed down the stretch, which qualified us for the Playoffs and earned a Wild Card match victory, is the intensity we must bring to bear every time we step foot on the pitch,” the statement read. “The performance of our entire organization will be elevated in 2024 and we vow that each player, coach, and front office staff member will work tirelessly to provide you the product and experience you deserve.”

The New York Red Bulls will have almost four months until the start of the 2024 season to gear up another quest for MLS Cup. With the return of Head Coach Troy Lesesne looking more and more imminent, this offseason represents an opportunity for the 39-year-old manager to apply more of his imprint on the team, with holes in areas of the Red Bulls lineup that will almost surely be addressed by new signings and restructured roles as players, such as Tolkin, expected to depart the club. Plus, with key pieces like Lewis Morgan, who led New York with 18 goals across all competitions in 2022, and Dante Vanzeir, the club’s marquee forward signing from the 2023 offseason, both returning from injury, the Red Bulls have a chance to reset and reload toward a successful 2024 campaign.