CONCACAF Champions League: New York Red Bulls' game plan works wonders in winning start

HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls' finishing left a bit to be desired, but in mostly all other respects the club executed to a tee on Tuesday night in their opening game of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League.
 
Though a number of quality chances went begging, the manner in which the Red Bulls carried out the blueprint laid out by head coach Mike Petke and his staff in their 2-0 win over El Salvador's CD FAS was immaculate.

The pregame strategy based on the video footage the Red Bulls gathered and the scouting they had done was to attack the wings. CD FAS normally play with a three-man backline and five midfielders, the wingers tasked with coming inside, so there would supposedly be plenty of space for New York’s wide players to exploit.

That is exactly how things played out and exactly what the Red Bulls took advantage of en route to the first Champions League win in club history.

“That was 100 percent in scouting … all the space is down the wings,” said Petke. “For someone like Lloyd [Sam], specifically, who loves getting wide and going at one-on-one plays, this was a game designed for him and also [Ambroise] Oyongo, who was very excitable out there.

“If you’re a winger, you want to play in a game like this and then you have [Tim] Cahill up front, who is arguably the best jumper in the league or perhaps the world, and Saer [Sene] who is six-foot-whatever. Obviously, our game plan was to get it wide and provide service.”

The Red Bulls found immediate success with that approach, as Sene netted his first goal in a New York uniform in the 11th minute. The sequence that led to that tally began with left back Roy Miller powering a header down the left flank to Oyongo, who hit a cross to the backpost that Cahill brought down and played to an open Sene for a cool finish.

New York continued to do the most damage down the wings – Sam juking defenders, Oyongo flying by his mark, Miller and fellow fullback Richard Eckerlsey also providing width – given the space they had. But a failure to finish several quality looks prevented the hosts from landing the knockout blow against a CD FAS team whose players struggled to deal with crosses partially because of their small statures.

“Everyone’s seen those games where you don’t take your chances and then they nick a goal at the end and you get a draw,” said Sam. “… We said at halftime we need the next goal and it fortunately came.”

It did take a few more misses, some glaring, but the Red Bulls finally killed off the game in the 70th minute. After being asked by Petke whether he needed to be substituted, Sam raced in from his wide position on an attack before being fed by central midfielder Peguy Luyindula.

Sam proceeded to fire the ball into the back of the net seconds before he was removed, ensuring the Red Bulls would grab three points on a night that couldn't have gone much better from a game plan standpoint.

“Everything seemed to work pretty well,” said Sam. “The game plan getting wide and getting crosses in – me and Oyongo were putting crosses in – so that looked like it worked pretty well.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com