Dylan Nealis connected for the game-winner for the Red Bulls midway through the second half. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Dylan Nealis could not have picked a better time to score his first professional goal.

The 23-year-old defender snapped a 1-1 tie in the 63rd minute to boost the Red Bulls to a 3-1 victory over Charlotte FC in a physical encounter in the Round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, N.J. on Wednesday night.

After Patryk Klimala fought off defender Guzman Corujo on the left flank, he slotted a pass to an onrushing Nealis, who tapped the ball home on the right side.

“I was super happy about it,” Nealis said. “All credit to Patryk though. He did all the work and then just putting a simple ball across the box and you know, I was just in the right spot at the right time and yeah, it is huge for the team. It gets us to the next round and it builds momentum in the league.”

For Klimala, setting up the goal was just par for the course.

“This is my game,” he said. “We have to play every game like that. I cannot see any defender in our league and any team who can defend our style of playing forward. Today we could show this a couple times. And especially in the first half I had actually a couple good situation when I passed to Omir [Fernandes]. Then I hit the post and I missed one. So in second half I did want good action. … This was important for the team for our confidence and finally we won our first home game.”

Tom Barlow added an insurance goal two minutes into stoppage time as the Red Bulls reached the quarterfinals for the 10th time.

They also won on a home pitch for the first time this season. The Red Bulls are 0-2-4 at Red Bull Arena and 7-1-1 on the road, across all competitions.

It didn’t take long for New York to strike. Two minutes after kickoff, Tom Edwards sent a corner kick into the box that Charlotte couldn’t clear. Klimala picked up a loose ball and knocked the ball past goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina from close range.

There was little doubt that Klimala is rounding into form after missing a couple of matches due to COVID-19.

“You guys could see this in the last couple weeks. I wasn’t lucky. I scored two goals against Chicago. I get COVID I had to stay in home for two games,” he said. “I didn’t train with guys almost one and a half weeks then I came back. It was hard to come back without a session. I had to come back step by step and today I was ready. I was fit today to play on my level and I felt great.”

It didn’t take long for the visitors to equalize a Daniel Rios beat keeper Carlos Coronel to the left side for a 1-1 deadlock in the eighth minute.

The Red Bulls will host New York City FC in a Hudson River Derby match in the quarterfinals on June 21 or 22.

“Yeah, it definitely makes it more intense,” Nealis said. “Obviously, it will be my first derby match , so I will be up for it, I will be super excited. I am use to watching them, watching my brother play in them. I can feel the intensity just from watching it on TV. So, to be a part of one and I cannot wait. The rest of the guys are super excited for it.”

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