New York Red Bull embrace mut-win take in Cincinnati rematch

Its win or go home for the New York Red Bulls.

After losing 3-0 to top seed FC Cincinnati in Game 1 of their Round One Best-of-3 series, New York know their backs are against the wall for Saturdays rematch at Red Bull Arena (7:00 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). Fortunately for them, thats where theyre most comfortable.

“I dont know why, I dont know what it is, I dont know if its a wanting to prove people wrong kind of thing. I dont know if its an exceeding expectations kind of thing,” homegrown left back John Tolkin told reporters two days before Saturdays match. “I dont know. But for some reason, I feel like we do seem to perform the best when our backs against the wall and everythings going against us and its a must-win situation.”

The Red Bulls have been in must-win mentality for over a month. They won four of their last five regular season matches, including a last-minute Decision Day victory in Nashville to finally climb above the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line. They then cruised past Charlotte FC in a Wild Card rout.

“This past month, month and a half, has been pretty much win-or-go-home mentality,” said Tolkin. “We seem to definitely rise to the occasion when it really is win or go home. Thatll fire us up… This sort of mentality and do-or-die always pushes us a little bit more.”

Energy Drink Soccer

Despite the 3-0 setback in Game 1, the Red Bulls are unwavering in their strategy heading into Saturday. Head coach Troy Lesesne stands firm in his belief that their game plan in Cincinnati was solid, and the match was closer than the scoreline suggests.

“I wouldnt say that we need to game plan better,” he said. “We were able to execute in a lot of the areas that we wanted to. I think theres a lot of confidence actually after the first game. You wouldnt imagine that after coming away 3-0.”

Lesesne underscored this delicate equilibrium, recognizing the stakes while also wanting his team to go all-out for the win.

“They know going into the match this week that those things cant happen against teams that succeed at such a high level as Cincinnati and can capitalize and punish you on individual errors,” he admitted. “That said, I want our guys to be brave as well. We dont want to go in with any fear factor of not trying to take risks in the game, and thats something that you have to do in order to get a result.”

Knowing that Saturday will be their last match at Red Bull Arena in 2023 (theyre the lowest remaining seed in the East, and Sporting Kansas City hold the tiebreaker in a potential MLS Cup meeting), Lesesne and his side are banking on a strong crowd to push them to a win that would force a Game 3 on Nov. 11 at TQL Stadium.

“Theres a lot on the line for us to be able to push to Game 3. And this is the final match at Red Bull Arena this year. We know that without a doubt,” he said. “With that clarity, what we want is for our fans to come out and celebrate the 2023 season with us and push us as they did in that Charlotte match in the play-in game, and how they really have been down the final stretch.

“Regardless, I know even if its not full, the energy right now in that arena is different.”