The New York Red Bulls are into the postseason for the 14th year in a row -- and 24th time in club history.
Just getting to this moment, in this season, is an accomplishment. But Head Coach Troy Lesesne knows it needs to be just the start. He had nothing but praise for his team and his staff.
“The first thing I'd like to do is just congratulate the players,” Lesesne said. “The players have continually worked this entire time in really challenging circumstances. They continue to believe and they never, ever question whether we could achieve something this season. I just give them so much respect and appreciation for everything that they put in every day.”
New York will face off against Charlotte FC on Wednesday, October 25 at Red Bull Arena. Kick if set for 7:30 PM ET and tickets are on sale now.
The New York Red Bulls are in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs!
“We're in good form right now, we're in very good form right now,” Lesesne said. “Charlotte's in good form right now. Let's just be clear about that. That's what the test is that is in front of us now: We have to get ourselves reset -- physically, mentally.”
John Tolkin put home the game-winner in stoppage time, scoring from the penalty spot. The goal would seal New York’s fate and send them into the playoffs.
Tolkin said stepping up to the ball, he knew he had a chance at making a little history.
“It honestly felt like a whole season worth of ups and downs, and just crazy times, and hard work, sorrow at times and just everything,” Tolkin said. “It felt like it came down to that kick. It would either be pretty tragic or it would be written in the stars and, luckily, it was written in the stars and it felt like a huge weight off our shoulders and, man, just can't really describe it, to be honest.”
New York won four of their last five matches to catapult themselves into the postseason mix.
“These last couple of games, everyone has been doing their part and more,” Sean Nealis said. “If we continue that, then hopefully we can go on a run in the playoffs. It's great to be a part of and it's a lot of fun momentum going on. Hopefully we're peaking at the right time.”
Red Bulls finished the regular season with 43 points and in 8th place.
“For all of us, the real season starts now,” Nealis said.
Tolkin said that, while the season has been full of ups and downs, getting the victory and into the playoffs is a huge relief and huge joy.
“It feels like all that hard work has come to this moment and it felt like everybody and everything was against us throughout the whole year,” Tolkin said. “You know, it's crazy. It's so hard, people don’t even understand behind the scenes, showing up to training and just putting your head down and working every day given the circumstances we were going through. Everybody has a weight off their shoulders, smiling, happy. We'll enjoy today. But yeah, we're home Wednesday, who would have thought but let's go. Huge game.”
But the work definitely doesn’t stop now.
“After today, the whole focus is on Wednesday,” Tolkin said. “We can't get too high about this because this is the minimum for this club. Even though it wasn't looking likely that we would make it, we are here and we're happy about it, but it is the minimum and our goal is MLS Cup. We all want the trophy. We’ll enjoy today, but we won't get too caught up with it. We'll be in tomorrow and we'll be back on the pitch ready and preparing for Wednesday.”
Lesesne agrees, and after congratulating his players and staff, went on to praise the supporters and the high standard they hold the club to:
"This is a special club. I'm very happy to extend our history, but that does not distract us from the fact that we have to do better and put ourselves in a better position. We're going to do that by investing more, and I don't mean that just as a financial statement, I mean time, thoughtfulness, energy and everything we do because that's what the club deserves. We've been well on our way on that over the last six months to really set the club in a right new direction and we have a lot more work to do. This is something, for me, that is an achievement, but we have a match Wednesday. We have a match Wednesday. That is a job at hand, and this is not the finish line for us. We wanted to create a new finish line and believe me that Wednesday is an opportunity to go beyond just getting in and sneaking into the playoffs.”