Chris Armas, New York Red Bulls ready for the unknown in Atletico Pantoja

There is no way New York Red Bulls coach Chris Armas could expect a detailed scouting reports for his side’s Round of 16 Concacaf Champions League tie against Atletico Pantoja (8 pm ET | YahooSports.com, UDN).

Coach Oliver Mendoza is just beginning is second stint in charge of the Dominican club, which won the 2018 Caribbean Cup to reach their first-ever CCL, then brought in roughly a dozen new players. Like MLS, the Dominican top flight is also currently in preseason.

So in Armas’ first preseason in charge of the defending Supporters’ Shield winners, much of the preparation for Wednesday’s first leg has been focused inward.

“If the goal was for us to figure out exactly what to expect tomorrow night from the coach, from those players, we’d say we haven’t done so well,” Armas admitted in a conference call on Tuesday. “What we do know is what the game will look like. We know what Champions League games look like, we know what away legs look like. We know what first legs of these types of competitions look like.”

The Red Bulls were arguably as impressive as any team in the CCL a year ago, going out in the semifinals to eventual champions Chivas in a 1-0 aggregate defeat despite dominating the second leg at home. They defeated Liga MX's Xolos de Tijuana and Honduras' Olimpia to get to that point, looking superior in both series.

While Tyler Adams has moved on to Germany, most of that seasoned squad remains.

"They understand the demands of those games, that every play matters, the savviness required in those games, the execution, the set pieces, pressure," Armas said. "I think those experiences, the deep rub, will pay dividends and I think we’ll see it right away tomorrow night."

Influential left back Kemar Lawrence will be available off the bench Wednesday night, Armas added. The Jamaican international missed both legs of the Red Bulls’ 2018 Eastern Conference Championship series defeat to Atlanta United, and has been used lightly this preseason. Lawrence played every minute of the Red Bulls’ 2018 CCL campaign.

“Kemar is back,” Armas insisted. “We were just managing workload (in preseason) and bringing him along the right way from a fitness standpoint and then thinking about the big picture.

“He’ll be on the bench and ready to go. He’ll be getting some starts in the very near future.”

Guadalajara was the only away venue where the Red Bulls failed to earn at least a share of the result in last year's CCL, losing 1-0 at Estadio Akron, one of the most pristine footballing venues in the Western Hemisphere.

The setting for their first trip of 2019 couldn't be more different.

The Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez, a 27,000-seat venue opened 45 years ago, was opened initially as a track-and-field facility. With Pantoja representing only the second DR club to reach the CCL, field conditions and other surroundings could be as challenging as the caliber of the opponent.

“We know that it’s not Red Bull Arena,” Armas said. “It will be far from perfect, but we’ll be ready.”


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