The New York Red Bulls ventured south to Club Tijuana's Estadio Caliente on Tuesday night and did what precious few MLS teams have done in the league's annals of 2018 CONCACAF Champions League participation: bagged a win on the road against Mexican opposition.
Bradley Wright-Phillips pounced on a glaring defensive error by Damian Perez to carve out a precious early lead for the visitors from close range. Then RBNY goalkeeper Luis Robles proceeded to stand on his proverbial head over the ensuing 80 or so minutes, making a scarcely-believable 13 saves to deny Xolos time and time again amid heavy pressure.
As Robles turned himself into a brick wall at one end, BWP continued to lurk at the other, popping up in the Tijuana penalty box to double RBNY's stunning away advantage with a clinical finish in the 67th minute.
The two clubs will conclude their quarterfinal series in Leg 2 at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday, Mar. 13 (8 pm ET | UDN, go90.com). With this, their first-ever away win in CCL, the Red Bulls carry a commanding 2-0 aggregate advantage home to North Jersey, where they also open their 2018 league campaign vs. Portland over the weekend.
- The Big Picture: MLS's longstanding woes on Mexican soil have been well-documented. But the Red Bulls, while undoubtedly riding their luck (and Robles' coattails), were brave, clever and committed in their brazen smash-and-grab mission in Baja California. Now they have a rare opportunity to book passage to the CCL semifinals, where the survivor of this series will clash with the Seattle-Chivas winner.
- Moment of the Match: Was it Wright-Phillips' heartless right-footed drive into the net to double the lead? Or perhaps it was the flurry of five saves Robles made in a fast and furious 12-minute stretch from the 19th to the 31st minute when Xolos seized supremacy of the game? No, RBNY's jaw-dropping early goal was what set the tone for this memorable CCL night.
- Man of the Match: This too is a tough call between Bradley Wright-Phillips and the captain Robles, the two veterans who led RBNY to victory against the odds. I'm going with BWP, because cold-blooded finishing like that has been exceedingly rare in MLS teams' long history of struggle vs. Liga MX sides in CCL.