NEW YORK — Real recognizes real.
Heber, whose first leg hat trick helped power New York City FC past AD San Carlos into the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals, is familiar – and impressed – with Tigres UANL forward Andre-Pierre Gignac.
“He does his job, he scores,” said the Brazilian. “He is very good, [so] we need to take care of him because he's dangerous. If you give a chance to him for sure he will score. So we need to be careful and take care because he really is a No. 9. If we give a chance to him, he will score for sure.”
Ronny Deila is only a few months into his job as NYCFC head coach, but he too was already well aware of the powerful French striker for his scoring prowess at Marseille, Toulouse and Lorient.
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Deila said the key to slowing down Gignac is to suffocate the 34-year-old’s service.
“I knew him even from Europe as well. So he’s a top striker, of course, and he’s a good finisher, strong. But he’s not so bad, our striker, so we can cause them problems,” Deila said. “It’s one thing to stop him, but we have to stop the service. That’s the other thing, to get them to run after us instead of us running after them all the time.’
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson realizes Tigres is a perennial powerhouse in Liga MX, a club that reached the CCL final a year ago, only to lose to Monterrey. They’re coached by Tuca Ferretti, arguably one of the best at his craft in the region.
But NYCFC have quality, too.
“It’s important that we don’t give them too much respect,” Johnson said. “They’re a successful team in Mexico, but we have to really buy into ourselves and our success as a club and what we've brought to the table over the past year that got us to this point in Champions League. And I think that confidence and belief within our group will get us where we need to be, and Tigres is that opponent that we’ll have to beat to do that.”
While Tigres have a sterling reputation, there are some cracks in the armor. They’re 12th in the Liga MX table and needed a remarkable stoppage-time goal from goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman in the second leg to stave off Alianza from El Salvador.
“We can beat them,” Deila said. “They are a good team, but it’s not Barcelona. It’s a team that’s possible to beat. I know the players believe in that as well.”
Not everyone is as well informed, though. At the club’s media day last week, NYCFC center back Alex Callens said he was unaware who Gignac was.
“It's the first time I've heard about him,” he said through a translator.
After two legs, the Peruvian international should be keenly aware.