The story of Tuesday’s Round of 16 match between the New York Red Bulls and FC Cincinnati was redemption. Six years removed from their historic Lamar Hunt US Open Cup run being ended by RBNY, the now first-division FC Cincinnati felt like it was following the same track. A late equalizing goal saw New York force extra time just like it had in the 2017 Semifinals. But on Tuesday, Cincinnati rewrote its story. The 1-1 tie held and a 5-3 penalty kick shootout saw the visitors advance to the Quarterfinals at Red Bull Arena.
“The game was certainly a test of character and all I can say is I’m beyond proud of this group to come out on top under the circumstances,” Cincinnati head coach Pat Noonan said in his postgame press conference. “On a night where you could tell the legs weren’t there and we were up against it. (We) just found a way. It was really impressive and the credit is solely with them.”
This is the second straight knockout tournament Cincy has eliminated the Red Bulls from. In last year’s MLS Cup Playoffs No. 4 was beaten, 2-1, by FC Cincinnati in Harrison. RBNY head coach Troy Lesesne, who’s only been in the role for about two weeks, was assistant coach during that playoff loss. He still thinks his team’s identity is growing.
A beauty from Yuya to give us the lead! ???? pic.twitter.com/v5J0lwslnc— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) May 24, 2023
“While some of the makeup of the team has changed from last year’s playoff match to tonight’s match I think the identity is becoming clearer and clearer about what we’re trying to do moving forward,” Lesesne said post match. “A team like FC Cincinnati has a very clear identity as well and I think that’s why they’re at the top of the table. So we just want to keep improving and I think we’re doing that and we have to say tonight was a success in a lot of ways – outside of the obvious of not progressing.”
Tuesday’s game started hot for multiple reasons. First, with the packed schedule and New York’s injury situation, the Open Cup was Dante Vanzeir’s first start since his return from suspension. Seeking his own redemption, in a way, the Belgian got the game’s first shot. Playing around a Cincy defender, he struck a shot that flew wide right.
The other reason was match official Fotis Bazakos. In the 10th minute he showed RBNY defender Hassan Ndam yellow for taking down FCC’s Yuya Kubo. It was the first of 10 that he would hand out. In one moment in the 28th minute, a header found the ball at Red Bull forward Tom Barlow’s feet in FCC’s box. He was seemingly taken down from behind but no penalty kick was awarded. Cincinnati charged back with the ball ending with Marco Angulo getting checked hard by Sean Nealis, who got a card.
To be fair it’s on brand for Bazakos. The official dueled out eight yellow cards in last round’s Minnesota United FC vs Philadelphia Union match.
The first half continued with New York outshooting Cincinnati. In fact the visitors first shot didn’t come until the 40th minute when Santiago Arias put one over the crossbar. Two minutes later their second shot found the back of the net. With a run up the left side Luciano Acosta passed to Marco Angulo who quickly back footed the ball to Yuya Kubo. The forward moved between two RBNY defenders and shot to the left post. Ryan Meara got a diving hand on the ball but it trickled into the net to give FC Cincinnati the lead.
Following halftime, New York pushed hard to find the equalizer early. FC Cincinnati could not escape their own half of the field for close to 15 minutes. One moment in the 61st saw substitute forward Elias Manoel get played the ball in the goal area. However a mix of two things stopped a chance on goal; the chip up had too much power and Manoel not being ready for it. Instead Alec Kann jumped on the ball to stop the play.
Over time Cincy started to return to New York’s end and even threatened a few times. One Acosta shot in the 64th minute curved to hit off the right post, passed a diving Meara, before the offside flag nullified the attempt. However by this point the visitors looked content to slow the game down and try to escape with the win. That meant getting chippy with the home side and taking their time with free kicks.
That boiled over with John Tolkin and Ryan Meara both seeing yellow late in the game.
Still seeking his own redemption, Vanzeir was called upon to do his part. In the second minute of stoppage time (roughly five minutes remaining), Cristian Cásseres Jr. sent a long ball into the box. Captain Sean Nealis headed it towards the center where an FCC player tried to head it out. It fell to Vanzeir, who scissor kicked a shot to the left side of the net past a non-moving Alec Kann to tie the game.
It was Vanzeir’s second late goal this year after scoring an 86th minute game winner against Columbus back in March.
Extra time came and went with neither team finding a go-ahead goal. That being said, the Red Bulls felt like the only team looking. New York continued to dominate play including multiple looks on net. A header attempt off a corner kick went wide in first half stoppage time. John Tolkin slammed a shot attempt in the 110th that went wide right and elected a reaction from Kann.
A chance in the 94th minute saw Luquinhas, who returned from injury as a sub in the second half, taken down in the box by Joey Akpunonu. Official Bazakos allowed play to proceed and VAR was not available to check. Match broadcasters commented that it looked as though Akpunonu made contact with the Brazilian prior to getting the ball.
Red Bull defender and Ric Flair impersonator John Tolkin was heard screaming at the fourth official, saying “What the fuck are we doing?” before his vocal bench was shown a yellow card a minute later.
After the game, Lesesne was asked a question about referee Bazakos. Included in the lead up were mentions of the missed penalties and the number of yellow cards, which included a point where six RBNY players on the field were on a caution. The coach responded by saying “I think you’ve just said it all my friend and I’m not gonna comment on that. Thank you for the question, though.”
The lone Cincinnati chance was a shot in the 108th minute, early in the second half. Luciano Acosta’s low shot from the left side forced Ryan Meara to make a diving save towards the far post. He grazed it with his fingers to force it out of play.
With an extra time sub remaining and time winding down, Coach Lesesne pulled his final card. Carlos Coronel, the Red Bulls normal starting goalkeeper, entered the match in second half stoppage time. Not replacing Meara … but defender Matt Nocita.
Red Bulls staff later noted team kit man Sean Ruiz pressed the unusual field player jersey for Coronel while the game was being played. It was done at the arena’s shop, which had to be unlocked by staff just for this.
“Carlos is actually quite good at taking penalties, so that was the thought process,” Lesesne explained. “He was going to be number six in the order and he wanted one. We want to let (Ryan Meara) play the 120 minutes. I think it’s a tactic that could have been used, to put Carlos in goal. But you know, Ryan is maybe a hand more to one of those penalties and he’s got us back in the game. So yeah, we wanted him to see that whole match out.”
Coronel never got his chance. Acosta made his first round attempt and the soccer gods proved redemption isn’t simply earned. After playing hero, in his second game post suspension, Vanzeir’s low shot was saved by Kann.
WE KEEP GOING! pic.twitter.com/wvyzIndvS3— FC Cincinnati (@fccincinnati) May 24, 2023
Cincy was perfect for four more rounds, including a heart stopping near save by Meara on Yerson Mosquera’s fourth round attempt.
“I’m not surprised that (Kann) was a big part of us winning the game,” Noonan said. “I think just his composure, positioning, shot stopping. He made plenty of good saves. There was a lot that either were missed off target or blocked, but when he needed to, he made plays for us.”
The match ended with RBNY outshooting Cincinnati 35 to 6. On target shots were 8 to 3.
Cincinnati will host the winner of Wednesday’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs Columbus Crew SC match. That sets up either a match with USL Championship history or another edition of the “Hell is Real” rivalry.
42’ – FC Cincinnati – Yuya Kubo (Marco Angulo)
90+2’ – New York Red Bulls – Dante Vanzeir
Penalty Kick shootout:
Luciano Acosta – Good
Junior Moreno – Good
Dominique Badji – Good
Yerson Mosquera – Good
Álvaro Barreal – Good
Dante Vanzeir – Saved
Elias Manoel – Good
Wikelman Carmona – Good
Cristian Cásseres Jr.- Good
New York Red Bulls: Ryan Meara (GK), John Tolkin, Sean Nealis (C), Hassan Ndam, Dylan Nealis (O’Vonte Mullings 80′), Cristian Cásseres Jr., Peter Stroud (Luquinhas 80′), Dante Vanzeir, Dru Yearwood (Cory Burke 69′, Matthew Nocita 90+10′, Carlos Coronel 120+2′), Cameron Harper (Wikelman Carmona 58′), Tom Barlow (Elias Manoel 58′)
Manager: Troy Lesesne
FC Cincinnati: Alec Kann (GK), Santiago Arias (Álvaro Barreal 73′), Ian Murphy, Yerson Mosquera, Nick Hagglund (Joey Akpunonu 90+10′), Alvas Powell, Malik Pinto (Ray Gaddis 73′), Obinna Nwobodo, Marco Angulo (Junior Moreno 84′), Luciano Acosta (C), Yuya Kubo (Dominique Badji 64′)
Manager: Pat Noonan
Hassan Ndam, RBNY 10′
Cristian Cásseres Jr., RBNY 22′
Sean Nealis, RBNY 28′
Santiago Arias, FCC 69′
Dominique Badji, FCC 89′
John Tolkin, RBNY 89′
Ryan Meara, RBNY 89′
Álvaro Barreal, FCC 90+2′
New York Red Bulls bench, 95’
Wikelman Carmona, RBNY 99′
Referee: Fotis Bazakos
Ast. Referees: Ian McKay, Max Smith
Fourth Official: Ernie Constantine
Venue: Red Bull Arena – Harrison, New Jersey