John Tolkin’s late stunner lifts Red Bulls to 1-0 win over DC United

John Tolkin Red Bulls
(Photo courtesy of the New York Red Bulls)

HARRISON, N.J. — All the Red Bulls needed on Sunday night was the left foot of John Tolkin.

The New York wing-back lifted his side to a vital 1-0 victory over DC United at Red Bull Arena, using an 88th-minute free kick from just outside the left side of the box to create the difference between the Eastern Conference rivals. The three points for the Red Bulls pulled them to within just one point of United, who dropped to 10th place and out of the final playoff spot.

At 21 years and 20 days old, hes’ the youngest player in franchise history to score directly from a free kick.

“I’m just so proud of him, continuing to evolve as a leader for this team,” Red Bulls head coach Troy Lesesne said. “Leaders step up in big moments. He wanted that moment, and he was able to execute.”

Stemming off a foul by DC United’s Jose Fajardo in the 87th, New York was awarded a free kick just on the edge of the penalty area, 20 yards out from goal. Rather than send in a cross into the middle of the box, Tolkin went for goal, sneaking a low shot just beyond the reach of United goalkeeper Tyler Miller and into the back of the net past the near post.

“I saw the wall was a little bit inside and the keeper was a little bit too far to my right and I thought I could sneak it in there,” Tolkin said of his goal. “The grass was slick so I was able to get that little bounce and, yeah, found the back of the net.”

It was a deserved three points for the side that largely dominated the night. The Red Bulls (7-8-9, 29 points) didn’t allow a single shot on goal and out-attempted United 8-3, marking the 11th straight MLS game that New York held its opponent to single-digit shot attempts. It’s the longest streak in the league since Opta began tracking the stat in 2010.

“That’s kind of the minimum, we want to have a goal to have a shutout game in and game out,” defender and captain Sean Nealis said. “Unfortunately, throughout the year, we haven’t been kind of doing that consistently, and I think it’s a good start tonight. We want to continue to do that, continue to build off tonight. It’s a good performance from a lot of guys tonight.”

The positive result also ensured that the Red Bulls avoided a third-straight league loss — something that hasn’t happened in nearly four years (Aug.-Sept. 2019). 

New York had more quality opportunities in the first half, starting with a Dante Vanzeir flick at the near post off a cross from the right that he sent just wide in the 18th minute. Ten minutes later, though, he was forced off after suffering a leg injury.

Dru Yearwood worked a bit of space in the 37th minute and sent a low shot from just outside the box on DC United’s net, but it was easily saved by Miller. 

One minute later, United had its biggest chance of the half when Gabriel Pirani streaked into the New York box. Before he pulled the trigger on a shot, a sliding Cameron Harper broke up the play with a risky challenge coming in from behind.

“Us defenders, we try and help the team the best we can and give us the best possible chance to win the game,” Tolkin said. “I guess when there are no shots on target, that gives us a pretty good chance to win.”

A cagy start to the second half didn’t yield a legitimate chance until the 60th minute when Christian Benteke — once a star for Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, and Liverpool — curled a right-footed effort just wide of Carlos Coronel’s right post.

Two minutes later, Tolkin was played into the left side of the box where his left-footed effort rolled wide of the opposite post. 

Harper had a chance to play the hero in the 75th minute when Tom Barlow found him in the box after a marauding run down the right wing. The right back’s chance skittered just outside the near post to the left of Miller. 

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