HARRISON, N.J. — There will be time to analyze the first leg even more, to break down every minute of the New York Red Bulls’ 2-0 loss to Santos Laguna in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals.
But in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday night’s defeat, the Red Bulls rued the missed chances they had in the first half, credited a rival who had a different skillset than they’re used to seeing in Major League Soccer and lamented conceding a second goal moments after halftime where midfielder Kaku said his team “got a little lazy there.”
It all adds up to a stinging defeat and an uphill climb in the second leg at Estadio Corona in a week’s time.
“I felt on the night, it was a little bit self inflicted at times,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “We saw that as a team, they're not always sprinting at you and their backline is always dropping in transition, so there’s time and space if we can just calm down a little bit. There did seem to be some unforced errors that we just didn't get right.”
The Red Bulls played on the front foot from the kickoff and their press caused Santos problems. But Santos coach Salvador Reyes quickly instructed his team to not possess out of the back, to break the lines and challenge the Red Bulls in their half of the field.
He wanted to isolate Argentine forwards Julio Furch and Javier Correa against the Red Bulls center back tandem of Tim Parker and Aaron Long and was confident his wide players would find enough space to create dangerous opportunities.
Armas said a lack of aggression at times when Santos attacked proved costly.
“Their strength is up the field with the quick wingers and the two strikers who do a good job challenging backlines,” Armas said. “They stay close together, they stay high and they operate underneath. We could be even more aggressive as we’re trying to use our No. 6s to be more aggressive and our center backs need to also be aggressive and they were.”
While the first goal just before halftime was a gut punch, the second just after the break was especially troublesome.
“The second one’s a bit harder to take obviously because we go, we’ve got a plan we come out and try and execute things and get ourselves back in a game and then boom they score,” forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said.
Added Armas: “I think it did rattle us a little bit.”
All that came after some golden chances for the Red Bulls in the first half that were either saved in an exceptional performance Santos goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco, or just off target.
“It’s tough,” Kaku said through a translator. “We had those opportunities and we should have been able to score, especially in the first half. Ideally we could have scored two to three goals in the first half how well we were playing with all the opportunities we had. We just couldn’t convert them.”