Astonishing Metro decrowns Charlotte, 5:2
October 25, 2023

New York Charlotte
Manoel 3
10.25.23 · Playoff

To say that the playoff opener against Charlotte defied all expectations is a vast understatement. This team scored five goals? (OK, they somehow did that before.) Tom Barlow actually scored? (OK, that happened too.) John Tolkin scored off a direct free kick? (Err... check.) Oh, here we go... Elias Manoel scored three goals! (WHAT?)

It truly made for a surreal night at Red Bull Arena, as Metro put on a first-half clinic before settling for a 5:2 win. There were some nervy moments in the second half as Charlotte tried to creep in, but the game's result was never in doubt.

Also never in doubt was the starting lineup, as Troy Lesesne went with what has worked in the recent run, making no changes yet again. This means Manoel and Barlow, and somehow, tonight Manoel and Barlow worked better than Manoel and Barlow ever worked before.

Manoel did miss what looked like an easy chance early, but quickly redeemed himself. Daniel Edelman won the ball in Charlotte's half and sent a perfect looping ball into the box. Manoel corralled it with a great first touch, then slammed it in. Moments after the goal, a fantastic fingertip save from Carlos Coronel kept Metro in the lead.

In the 26th, Metro earned a free kick dead center just outside the box, precisely the opportunity they've wasted time and again, year after year. This time, Tolkin stepped up, and somehow curved a perfect strike into the upper right corner. Yes, he scored that free kick against DC, but that had a lot to do with bad positioning. This one was truly magical.

The magic continued in the 37th minute, this time Tolkin playing provider to Manoel after forcing yet another turnover, taking the ball up the left side and sending it into the box. The Brazilian, somehow completely unmarked, had all the time in the world to compose himself and curve a shot into the upper right corner for a perfect finish.

Perfection stopped just four minutes into the second half, as Charlotte managed to score off a free kick, but Metro restored the three-goal cushion seven minutes after. Luquinhas spurned Tolkin, who made a run into the box and centered it. All Barlow had to do was stick his foot out, and it was 4:1. It was the first time all year that both of Metro's starting forwards scored in one game.

That wasn't the end of it, as Charlotte made got one back in the 64th, but, as time was winding down, even those of used to Metro playoff failure realized that time was clearly on our side. It all became academic in the 78th, and it was Manoel again. Metro won the ball in midfield, with Edelman passing forward to Luquinhas, who sprung his fellow Brazilian up the left wing. Manoel ran it into the box and slammed home the first hat-trick in Metro playoff history. In just one game, he doubled his regular-season goal total. Of his nine career goals, six have somehow come against Charlotte.

Oh, what a truly wonderful, expectation-defying night it was. On to Cincinnati!

Lineup: Coronel, Tolkin, Nealis, Reyes, Duncan, Edelman, Amaya, Fernandez, Luquinhas, Manoel, Barlow. Subs: Nealis, Harper, Stroud, Yearwood.

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