There were 10 minutes, way back at the start of RBNY's 4-2 second leg loss at Santos Laguna on Tuesday night in which it felt like the Red Bulls were going to win the damn thing – or even that they should win the damn thing.
They came out of the gates flying, pressing a sleepwalking Santos side and battering them in the attacking third. They were quick, purposeful and rampant. They got two goals by repeatedly getting down the wings and pulling the ball back across the box, running into one-timers and looking like they knew exactly how they wanted to go about reversing their first-leg deficit.
There were about 15 minutes, just after that, in which the Red Bulls looked like they could win the damn thing. They weren't dominating anymore – the two goals woke Santos up at least a little bit – but they were mostly on the front foot, and mostly able to string passes together, and mostly able to be dangerous.
That sequence ended in the 24th minute with a pass from Connor Lade that slipped through the Santos defense, and found Bradley Wright-Phillips somehow unmarked in the box, about 14 yards out. He took a touch, undefended, turned and fired a shot that he has scored on so, so often in his RBNY career.
It went right into goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco's breadbasket. And with that, Santos finally woke up:
- BWP's was the 4th RBNY shot of the night. They would take just one more.
- Santos had taken 4 shots on the night at that point. They took 17 more, including all four goals en route to a 6-2 aggregate-goal series win.
This has been the story for so long with the Red Bulls in the biggest moments of the biggest games. They find a way to not convert on the opportunities that got them there in the first place. And when that happens, they just haven't had the extra gear to fight their way out of it.
Forget about the tactics (though not all the tactics – Chris Armas should viddy well, my droogs, what happened when he decided to play with only one central midfielder for the final 25 minutes): This was a game and a series of moments.
Santos finished theirs. New York did not. Los Guerreros are onto the semis, and RBNY return to the drawing board.
The second game of the evening was both closer and less dramatic.
Houston never really made a run, but also they never got run off the field and came out of the second leg with merely a 1-0 loss (3-0 on aggregate).
Honestly, keeping it respectable at El Volcan is impressive, as is the fashion in which Houston did it. They didn't exactly go out there and play jogo bonito, but they didn't bunker, either, and there were some pretty decent stretches of play in which they were able to get on the ball, knock it around a bit and generate some good chances. A little bit more sharpness from Tommy McNamara or Mauro Manotas in front of net and this one would've gotten interesting.
Obviously that wasn't meant to be – the chances Houston did create all went wanting, and Tigres were able to keep it in third gear for the duration, save for a 10-minute stretch midway through the second half.
That was enough to get the Liga MX giants (they're the team of the decade, and a CCL crown is all they're missing to make it indisputable) comfortably into the semis.
The Dynamo should take heart, though. Yes, they have work to do in the regular season to get back into the playoffs after last year's absence, but so far it looks very much like they have the pieces to do it. Kiki Struna has been mostly excellent to start his MLS career, as has Matias Vera. They've stiffened the spine of the team, which is a good dose of what the doctor ordered.