Armchair Analyst: New York Red Bulls open up CCL campaign in third gear

There is often not much to say about a game in which a team as good as the New York Red Bulls meet a team as overmatched as Atletico Pantoja. The Dominican Republic champions were energetic and committed, of course, and were skillful in more than a couple of places.

But the Red Bulls were very good (occasionally great) last year, and look to be at least that again this year. Nothing that happened in the first 90 minutes of their season, a 2-0 win down in the DR to kick off their second straight Concacaf Champions League campaign, suggested otherwise.

Rather than a deep dive, let's just go through things with a series of bullet points:

• Goal No. 1 was a Bradley Wright-Phillips-forced own goal off a broken set piece.

• Goal No. 2 was much more artistic, as Daniel Royer got onto a Kaku cross at the far post before roofing it:

• There were two big worries with the Red Bulls this year. One had to be the mindset of Kaku, who had a long and public and at times unseemly flirtation with Club América during this latest transfer window. Would he be committed after all that? After one game the answer is a very obvious "yes," as he was one of the three best players on the pitch. Same goes for right back Michael Murillo, who's had some transfer window rumblings of his own over the past year.

Royer was the man of the match, not only for his goal and "assist," but also for his ability to connect passes in the attacking third. Almost everyone struggles with that at the start of the year, but he didn't. 

• The other 2019 worry is "how will they replace Tyler Adams?" That's still very TBD, as Pantoja weren't good enough on or off the ball to trouble the Red Bulls midfield (for what it's worth, that midfield played in more of a 4-3-3 with Sean Davis as a single pivot rather than the more common 4-2-3-1 of last season). Marc Rzatkowski was the third central midfielder, alongside Kaku and ahead of Davis.

• Homegrown rookie winger Omir Fernandez, who starred at Wake Forest and has just about pushed his way into the US U-20 set-up, made his debut, coming on for Alex Muyl with 15 minutes left. He was tidy and his movement was constantly dangerous. Often the Red Bulls have their Homegrowns do a year in USL with RBNY 2, but I don't think that'll be the case with Fernandez. Omir comin'.

• Two players from Pantoja worth scouting again: their No. 10, Ronaldo Vazquez, and their No. 14, Jean Carlos Lopez. Vazquez, a 19-year-old winger, was one of the best and most productive attacking players at the recent Concacaf U-20 Championship, and looked both technical and composed against the Red Bulls. Lopez looked the part of a fearless and pretty hard two-way central midfielder.

I wouldn't be at all shocked to see either or both offered a contract with RBNY2.

• Chris Armas may want to sit Murillo out next game, as he picked up a totally unnecessary yellow card that could cost him a suspension in the quarters should he get another. Kyle Duncan hasn't looked 90-minutes fit so far in the preseason, but if they can get 60 out of him (and a big lead), they can probably play the final 30 minutes with a band-aid right back.

• The Red Bulls, should they advance (they will), will face Santos Laguna of Liga MX in the quarters. Los Laguneros are having a pretty middling Clausura, but they went to San Pedro Sula on Wednesday and simply crushed CD Marathon by 6-2. That series is over.

This series should be as well. RBNY can probably cruise along in third gear again next week and ease their way into the quarters.

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