HARRISON, N.J. – It was a tough Tuesday night for the New York Red Bulls, a scoreless home draw against Chivas de Guadalajara spelling an end to their Concacaf Champions League campaign in the semifinals. What the draw might just do, however, is give a confidence boost to a club that hasn’t won any hardware since 2015.
The entire Champions League experience was a confidence boost for the Red Bulls, who outclassed Honduran juggernaut Olimpia as well as Mexican club Tijuana to reach the semifinals. They also outplayed Chivas on Tuesday night, but were unable to turn nine shots on goal into anything on the scoreboard.
In fact, Chivas didn’t manage a single shot on frame (and took just one shot overall) in the second leg. While the ball didn’t bounce their way against one of Mexico’s most storied teams, there are some positives as the Red Bulls return to league play this Saturday against the Montreal Impact.
“I think it’s got to create hunger. I think the opportunity to win a trophy earlier on in the year in a competition like this is great. I think it creates hunger for the guys and a lot of guys are disappointed that we didn’t get to move on,” defender Tim Parker said. “Obviously, you’ve got to take this with a grain of salt and move forward and look forward to MLS play. We’ve got a long season ahead of us there and, obviously, we want to win stuff there as well.”
The vibe from this Champions League exit is different than last year, where the Red Bulls crashed out of the tournament in February against Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the quarterfinals and there was a bit of a hangover effect. It wasn’t just losing in the tournament that was bad, it was the way they played over the two legs against Vancouver.
In that series, the Red Bulls seemed disjointed in both legs. Their noted pressing and counter-pressing was out of sync and their almost chaotic flow in the final third was a step off. The drop in form from their CCL exit was noticeable this time a year ago as the club looked lethargic.
The Red Bulls won just twice in their first six matches last year, including a difficult 4-1 loss at the Houston Dynamo that might have been the team’s worst performance to date under head coach Jesse Marsch. Despite heavy squad rotation to keep players fresh for this year's CCL, the Red Bulls have two wins from four matches to start the year and very easily feel like they could have had more.
“I think the whole tournament, the whole Champions League tournament, we’ve done well. It’s just tough to come out at this stage,” forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “I don’t like this feeling I’ve got the last few years. It sucks, but when we play on the weekend we’ll have to dust ourselves off and be ready to perform.”
Having beaten a club like Tijuana and nearly knocking off Chivas, the Red Bulls are left feeling like their CCL run showed some of their potential. It is a bit of momentum for the team as they head back into the regular season.
“Yeah, we've had to compress putting a team together quickly, right. Our season is just starting — we’re four games in and it feels like playoffs. So it's a very unique situation that we've been thrust into,” Marsch said.
“I think we'll learn a lot from it and I think it will make us better. Like I said, I think we've seen that this group has some really good qualities to it and has a big potential. So the key for us is to take a day to decompress a little bit. We've got to kind of get ourselves into mode for the season and Saturday can't be a game where we feel sorry for ourselves and come out and play flat. We've got to now take this confidence and momentum and take it into the season and make sure that we really launch ourselves in a good way here for the next couple months.”