HARRISON, N.J. — Bradley Wright-Phillips stared blankly ahead, his hands crossed above his head.
The feeling was disbelief in another chance, a gilt-edged opportunity that went array.
But the same thing that frustrated the New York Red Bulls forward following a 2-0 loss to Santos Laguna in the opening leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals Tuesday night also gives him reason for optimism that his club can turn things around next week in Torreon.
“It's obviously going to be tough going there, but what we did show is that we created chances and if we just finished those it’s obviously a different game,” Wright-Phillips said “So, I get confidence from that and the team has to. We know we can create chances against them, but it’s not great giving up two goals.”
Wright-Phillips said he felt the best he has since the preseason started and the result were quality chances, both early and late.
On another day, he believes, those go in. He’s hoping next Tuesday is that day.
While the Red Bulls have an uphill climb to erase the two-goal deficit, they are confident they can do it. It will take a multi-goal win in Mexico. While that’s been rare for MLS teams, New York was the first to do so last year when the Red Bulls stunned Club Tijuana, 2-0, in the first leg of the quarterfinals a year ago.
In that game, Wright-Phillips struck for a brace.
“I’m hoping for another Tijuana,” Wright-Phillips said. “I feel like I owe the team a couple of goals. Let’s see what I can do.”
Of course, there’s some differences in the circumstances. That win came in the first leg, not with the Red Bulls needing to climb out of a deficit. And, as they showed Tuesday night, Santos Laguna poses a different problem and are a better side than the Xolos team that got bounced 5-1 on aggregate by the Red Bulls a year ago.
Still, with no MLS game this weekend, the Red Bulls can fully focus on what needs to be done for a monumental comeback. They’ll return to training Thursday and fly to Mexico Sunday focused and determined.
“We understand in the locker room what we have to do, everyone understands the mistakes we made,” Kaku said through a translator. “We did well in Tijuana last year scoring a lot of goals. We’re capable of doing it. It’s just a matter of taking it one goal at a time.”
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas is quick to warn his team can’t just throw numbers forward from the opening kickoff at Estadio Corona. The Red Bulls will have to have a “balanced and calculated approach.”
And, of course, be more clinical in the final third.
“Certainly, the game won’t be won in the first 20 minutes from us, but it can be lost,” Armas said. “So we'll have to be smart how we go about it, but I think we'll have to remain aggressive too. That’s who we are and we’ll go there calculated and one goal at a time.”