Another MLS team advanced into the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, a 0-0 draw on Tuesday night good enough to send the New York Red Bulls through against a tough Antigua GFC side.
It is another poignant moment for a Red Bulls franchise that has exorcised some demons in recent years, the latest being their advancement in the Champions League for the first time in franchise history. Their previous two trips to the tournament ended prematurely: In 2009 the Red Bulls failed to advance beyond the preliminary round, then in 2014 they petered out of the group stages with five points from four matches.
Against Antigua, the Red Bulls seemed willing to play a direct style, but they by no means just hunkered down to weather the storm, despite a waterlogged pitch. They utilized their high press and came close to taking a lead several times, including two good opportunities by left midfielder Mike Grella in the first half.
“It’s a huge moment for the club,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “The fact that we’ve gotten it done early in our season – we have a month remaining basically in our year before the playoffs, we don’t have any other games in the way. We can totally focus and regenerate and make sure that all of our guys are ready to push and have one goal in mind.”
“Big accomplishment, again proud of our team. Showed a lot of character and now it’s time to continue to move forward here and go after a big trophy in a big way.”
The result in Guatemala means that the Red Bulls finish atop the group with eight points (2-0-2).
Despite using a young lineup that featured just three starters from Saturday’s 1-0 win against the Montreal Impact (goalkeeper Luis Robles, centerback Aurélien Collin and midfielder Felipe, the Red Bulls did a good job neutralizing the Guatemalan champions in the final third, limiting them to a couple of half-chances.
Robles, who served as captain, noted that “the field, the weather, the refereeing all of it was stacked up against us tonight.”
“Nonetheless we made history tonight. The organization can be proud of these guys because we made a big step, getting to the knockout stage, getting somewhere this organization has never been before,” Robles said.
“I just think it’s about time CONCACAF see what the New York Red Bulls are all about.”
Just as big as advancing in the tournament is for the Red Bulls, it is more continued momentum for a team that hasn’t lost since July 3.
“We knew given the conditions – it rained really hard down here in Guatemala City – it was going to be a dog fight,” Marsch said. “It wasn’t going to be about soccer, it was going to be about winning battles, loose balls, 50-50s, and second balls. And I’ll tell you what, we went 14-for-14 in terms of guys who were fighting out there, clawing for every inch, doing everything we could to make sure we were going to get the result out there.”
“A big moment for our club, a big moment for our team. I’m very proud of our guys, I think they showed a lot of character and proved what we’re all about.”