After a successful regular season which saw FC Cincinnati crowned kings of the league, the team begins its 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a first-round matchup against the New York Red Bulls, the first of which on Sunday night.
A year after getting its playoff win at Red Bull Arena and knocking the hosts out of the tournament, FCC will return the favor by opening up at TQL. However, the playoff format has seen a shake-up since then. This round of the playoffs is no longer a single-game knockout matchup, but a best-of-three series where the winning team must win two games. This means that any tied game will immediately finish with a PK shootout to determine a winner.
While there will be a chance to learn about their opponents over the series, Red Bulls are by no means an unfamiliar foe, as the two teams have faced off three times already this season. FC Cincinnati won their U.S. Open Cup matchup in penalties, but the two split their regular season matches 1-1 with each game finishing 2-1.
And the last matchup will be something both teams will still have on their mind.
For Cincinnati, it was supposed to be a celebration of the season and a chance to have a party with fans as they raised the Supporters Shield after the game. The Red Bulls, however, took advantage of a rotated squad and scored two goals early in the first half and held on to win the game as Cincy subbed on more attacking talent.
Red Bulls midfielder Omir Fernandez mentioned it in a press conference this week, “…they (FC Cincinnati) are going to regret letting us off easy and letting us get into the playoffs with that win at their place.”
And it’s evident how important of a moment it became for New York, who won their following two regular season games, qualified for the Play-In round and trounced Charlotte FC 5-2 in Charlotte on Wednesday.
This result breaks the mold a bit for the Red Bulls who have struggled to score goals this season (36 regular season goals, fifth worst in MLS) but maintained a stout defense (39 Goals Against, T-fifth best in MLS). It was punctuated by an Elias Manuel hat trick, who is on a bit of a heater since scoring in Cincinnati and has four Goals and three Assists in the last four games.
Ultimately, playoff matches are going to ratchet up the intensity of any game, but with these two teams usually at each other’s throats in regular season games, and each side looking to settle a grudge, this series is primed to be a hotly contested affair.
Game Time: Oct. 29, 2023, at 8 p.m.
Game Location: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati
Broadcast: AppleTV+ MLS Season Pass, Fox Sports 1