HARRISON, N.J. — If there was any question about how the New York Red Bulls would approach the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 tie against Atletico Pantoja, Chris Armas left no doubt on his team sheet.
An unchanged starting XI from the first-choice squad that left Santo Domingo with a two-goal victory in the first leg a week ago.
Yes, it was unlikely the minnows from the Dominican Republic would stage a comeback, but the Red Bulls were leaving nothing to chance.
“We come in with a two-goal lead against a team like Pantoja who is very explosive, it can change quickly,” Armas said. “We had to put our guys out there that we thought could put it on our terms right away and leave no doubt.”
On a frigid night at Red Bull Arena, that’s just what the Red Bulls did. They took care of business, scoring twice in the first half and adding a third goal in the final quarter-hour to close out Pantoja 5-0 on aggregate to set up what should be a tasty quarterfinal tie against Santos Laguna from Liga MX.
“The most important thing was to have the right mentality in a series like this and to start the year off with professional performances and that was I think impressive from the guys,” Armas added.
Sean Davis started the Red Bulls off on the right foot with a headed goal in the 27th minute, “my probably one and only header goal of my career,” he joked. That was followed by a converted penalty kick by Danny Royer and Andreas Ivan’s first goal for the Red Bulls.
“When we look back at this series we’ll be proud of it because it was a professional performance from start to finish,” Davis said. “We knew what these games would look like. I think our experience in this competition helps out a lot.”
Now the Red Bulls can look forward to another showdown against Liga MX opposition. A year ago, they famously dispatched Club Tijuana in the quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Chivas de Guadalajara in the semifinals.
Armas knows the challenge is mighty, but he’s also already done his homework.
“We’ve been prepping already in case we move on. We know they’re a very good team and we play a lot like them in some ways,” he said. “They can play in tight spaces, they compress the field and counter pressing is a bit part of how they operate. We’ve gotten a good head start looking at them.”
One player who will not feature against Santos is Michael Amir Murillo. The Panamanian right back was booked early in the second half — his second yellow card of the competition — and will be suspended for the first leg next Tuesday at Red Bull Arena.
“Obviously I’m happy about the win, but I’m a little bit upset about the yellow card because I didn’t feel like it was a foul,” Murillo said through a translator. “We have a good group, we have a lot of depth on this team and I’m confident in the group to pull it out, but I wish I was out there.”