Elias Manoel celebrates his first goal. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Elias Manoel saved his best for the last – as in the last game of the MLS season.
The Brazilian striker connected for his first two goals in a Red Bulls uniform to boost the team to a 2-0 victory over Charlotte FC at Red Bull Arena on Decision Day Sunday afternoon.
The result secured fourth place in the MLS Eastern Conference and a home game against fifth-place FC Cincinnati in the opening round of the MLS Cup Playoffs next week. It will be the team’s first home post-season match since 2018.
The Red Bulls (15-11-8, 53 points) will play in the first round next week. Charlotte finished its inaugural MLS campaign with a 13-18-3 mark in ninth place, two spots out of the postseason.
Goalkeeper Carlos Coronel was outstanding in the net with several vital saves.
Only eight minutes in, the Red Bulls drew first blood.
Lewis Morgan rammed a shot from outside the box that goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega dove to his left to knock away. The rebound came to Manoel, who slotted it away for a 1-0 lead and his first goal with the club in his fifth start.
Manoel was so elated he had scored that he punched the air in celebration, not unlike how Brazilian legend let the world know that he had tallied a goal.
The goal also snapped an ignominious streak of 615 scoreless minutes by a Red Bull No. 9. Patryk Klimala, Tom Barlow and Manoel hadn’t found the net since the 23rd minute of a 1-1 home draw with FC Cincinnati on Aug. 20.
It was the 10th goal scored by a Red Bulls’ striker this season.
If anything, the tally woke up Charlotte, which kept the Red Bulls on their heels. Nuno Santos tried to equalize in the 21st minute but goalkeeper Carlos Coronel parried the ball away with his right hand.
Six minutes later, Coronel came up big again, deflecting Karol Swiderski’s shot from just outside the penalty over the end line for a corner kick.
Coronel’s opening-half act wasn’t finished as he dove to his left to knock away Anton Walkes’ header in the 39th minute.
You would not have known that the Red Bulls had much of a home-field advantage in the first half. Charlotte incredibly, enjoyed a 73.7 percent possession margin. That was a ridiculous amount, even if New York, or any team, for that matter, was playing on the road.
The visitors came out strong in the second half, but Manoel gave the Red Bulls some much-needed breathing room in the 55th minute, powering a drive from outside the box for a two-goal margin. Frankie Amaya assisted.