Aaron Long: Champions League is "priority 1" as Red Bulls chase trophy

COLUMBUS, Ohio – After a lineup made up predominantly of reserves earned a road point to begin their MLS campaign, the New York Red Bulls quickly turned their focus to the Concacaf Champions League and an imposing opponent after a three-day turnaround.

Three days after clinching a spot in the CCL quarterfinals, head coach Chris Armas started just three of the same players in a 1-1 draw in Columbus against Crew SC Saturday afternoon as a Tuesday matchup with Santos Laguna in New York loomed large (8 pm ET | Univision Deportes, YahooSports.com).

After the match, Armas said earning the difficult result while so many starters rested “with an eye on Tuesday” gives him “more information that supports what we believe,” which is that his team is as deep as any in MLS.

“It gives us a lot of confidence in what we’re doing here, with [sporting director] Denis Hamlett building the roster,” he said. “We feel great, moving forward, that we can rely on a lot of guys.”

Moments after the match, Armas said he was already shifting his focus to Santos, who he called “a different challenge,” but one “we’re excited for.”

“I see two teams that value similar things; both teams are a little direct at times and value defensive play and pressing and counter-pressing and playing in tight spaces,” he said. “I think we know where they’re strong; they have some clever attackers and speedy wingers. … But we think we know their weaknesses, too, and we’ll do our best to expose that.”

Santos made an emphatic statement in the CCL round of 16, thumping CD Marathon by an aggregate score of 11-2 over two legs.

Defender Aaron Long said the Red Bulls – and their backline in particular – aren’t taking the matchup lightly.

“They’ve shown a lot of confidence, and their results were very one-sided in their favor,” he said of Santos. “It just shows that they’re a really good team. They won a title last year in Mexico, and they’re going to come out full-force and look to win in our place. They’re not going to look to sit in and try to get a tie. We know they’ll be coming for goals.”

Despite that, Long said “for sure” the team thinks it can win a CCL title, and said they’re approaching the tournament that way.

“As long as we’re in CCL, I think that’s priority 1 right now,” he said.

Armas was less willing to set expectations, and said his focus will be on preparing his team for what they’ll face against Santos and making sure his players understand that “every play matters.”

“We’re taking it one game at a time and understanding exactly the demands of leg one in our building – every goal for us, how it counts, every goal for them, how it counts,” he said. “[We’re] understanding the discipline it’s going to take, understanding our opponent, respecting our opponent and understanding that nothing is a given.

“We want to win every game we play, but the minute you start thinking you’re there before you’re there, you’re humbled really quickly. But we’re going after it.”


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