The New York Red Bulls own North America’s longest current playoff streak — which was extended on Saturday night on the final day of Major League Soccer’s regular season.
Needing a victory over Nashville, which already clinched its ticket to the postseason, defender John Tolkin’s penalty conversion in the fourth minute of stoppage time in the second half provided just that in a 1-0 triumph to give the Red Bulls a 14th consecutive playoff berth, catapulting them from 10th place in the Eastern Conference to eighth.
The 14-straight playoff appearances are the most in MLS history and is the longest active streak on the continent across all major sports leagues. The Los Angeles Dodgers are currently No. 2 with 11 straight postseason appearances.
“I think first of all, we deserve to celebrate this,” Tolkin said after the win. “All the hard work, we deserve to enjoy this moment. But that being said, after today, the whole focus for Wednesday. We can’t get too high about this because, this is the minimum for this club.”
Wednesday immediately puts New York’s season back on the brink. As the No. 8 seed in the East, they play No. 9 Charlotte FC in a single-elimination Wild Card match on Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls drew Charlotte in both MLS encounters this season, most recently battling back from a two-goal deficit to salvage a point on June 21 with a pair of second-half goals just five minutes apart. A win punches a ticket into the first round and a best-of-three series matchup with the No. 1 seed in the East, FC Cincinnati.
It’s quite the accomplishment in itself just to make the playoffs despite Tolkin labeling it as the minimum. The Red Bulls won just one of their first 11 MLS games this season, which ultimately led to the departure of manager Gerhard Struber and the promotion of Troy Lesesne.
Under Lesesne, New York went 10-9-4 in its last 23 games which included four wins in its final five matches of the season. Charlotte has one three of its last four.
“I think we’re in good form right now. I think we’re in very good form right now,” Lesesne said. “And I think Charlotte’s in good form right now. So 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. The guys, I can see that they’re happy, but they’re also exhausted. Both regards… I’m very happy to give our fans another home match. They deserve that. But we have to repay that by being prepared in the best way possible so that we can progress in the playoffs.”