HARRISON, N.J. — Red Bulls head coach Troy Lesesne couldn’t help but tell his team to bask in the joy on Sunday night.
In a matter of seconds, they went from crashing out of the Leagues Cup after John Tolkin conceded a penalty, to winning the East 4 group and moving on to the competition’s Round of 32 after goalkeeper Carlos Coronel saved Unai Bilbao’s spot kick and the resulting counter-attack that resulted in Dante Vanzeir’s stoppage-time winner in an emotional 2-1 victory over Liga MX side Atletico de San Luis.
The three points saw the Red Bulls leapfrog the New England Revolution for the top spot in the group, which means they avoided Mexican powerhouse Pumas in the Round of 32.
Granted, that doesn’t mean their knockout stage match is any easier. Waiting for them is their local rival in New York City FC (NYCFC) as the Hudson River Derby takes on a new dimension in its first-ever installment at the Leagues Cup.
“This is a big challenge,” Lesesne said. “I think we all know that coming off of the feeling we have right now and an emotional high — which I told the guys to enjoy it even though it wasn’t exactly the perfect script of where we thought it would be when we were 1-0 up to win the group… The next challenge is a very talented New York City team and a derby for the team that’s going to progress to the Round of 16. So I think we have to enjoy this for now but move on [Monday].”
That’s Lesesne and the Red Bulls’ only option considering the quick turnaround. The two New York clubs will face off on Thursday night at Red Bull Arena for their second meeting of the season. The Red Bulls defeated NYCFC 1-0 on May 13 thanks to Omir Fernandez’s 76th-minute winner.
“They will be sharp because we beat them last time, they’ll seek revenge,” Vanzeir, one of Sunday night’s heroes, said. “But I think we have to be at our best as well to make sure that we’re able to win this game. I think it’s going to be a great game.
“We have a few days to work towards it and make sure that our bodies are rested for that game. I think me and the whole team are very excited. I think there’s only one objective and that’s… winning this game.”
NYCFC finished second in the East 3 group, thumping Toronto FC 5-0 before losing to Liga MX side Atlas 1-0. It’s been a difficult season for the Bronx-based club, which has won just two of its last 17 matches. But they have reason for optimism with the signing of Algerian striker Mounsef Bakrar, who scored against Toronto last week.
“They have a lot of quality,” Red Bulls captain Sean Nealis said. “I think some results haven’t gone their way either, but we’re both excited for this matchup.”