Red Bulls face playoff debutant Charlotte FC in wild-card showdown

The New York Red Bulls and Charlotte FC both earned dramatic victories to earn their place in the Eastern Conference wild-card match. Now they will have to regroup quickly for their single-elimination clash Wednesday night in Harrison, N.J.

The Red Bulls (11-13-10, 43 points) will host after they needed John Tolkin’s penalty kick deep in stoppage time to secure a 1-0 victory at Nashville SC and the No. 8 seed in the East, ahead of Charlotte (10-11-13, 43 points) on the first tiebreak of total wins.

Luquinhas earned the opportunity for New York by inducing defender Anibal Godoy into a foul.

With the Red Bulls’ previous penalty takers this season not on the field, Tolkin converted from the spot for the first time in his career to give the visitors a victory they needed, and their third in a row to close the regular season.

“It honestly felt like a whole season worth of ups and downs, and just crazy times, and hard work, sorrow at times and just everything,” Tolkin said of scoring the goal. “It would either be pretty tragic or it would be written in the stars and, luckily, it was written in the stars and it felt like a huge weight off our shoulders and, man, just can’t really describe it, to be honest.”

Charlotte FC took an early lead in their 1-0 win over Lionel Messi and Inter Miami in their season finale. But after Kerwin Vargas scored his second goal in as many games in the 13th minute, the Crown had to survive a late onslaught from Miami.

Goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina made an exceptional diving stop to his left to keep out Leonardo Campana’s header in second-half stoppage time, preserving a third win in four matches to slide into the ninth seed.

“All the season, all the trainings, what I had in the season, it goes to this last save,” said Kahlina, who wasn’t busy for most of the game. “I knew that it will come, something, because they have such much quality that it would be really weird if the whole game they had nothing.”

The Red Bulls and Charlotte drew both regular-season meetings, 1-1 at Charlotte and 2-2 at New York. The Red Bulls are appearing in an MLS-best 14th consecutive MLS Cup Playoffs, while Charlotte is making its first postseason appearance after joining the league in 2022 as an expansion team.