The Cityzens reported three positive COVID-19 results ahead of Tuesday's match, which caused them to adjust their travel plans before heading to Orlando, where the match is being played at a neutral site, and thinned their depth as they continue the tournament. Johnson wasn't among the positive tests, but was deemed a close contact to one of the players who was, rendering him ineligible for the match.
💙🙏🏾 CCL Update pic.twitter.com/y8Umz1Ltan— Sean Johnson (@SeanJohnGK) December 14, 2020
That means backup Luis Barraza is set to get the nod, while NYCFC also announced on Monday that they've acquired Mason Stajduhar on loan from Orlando City SC for the remainder of the season to shore up their depth at the position. Speaking with reporters on a Monday video call, head coach Ronny Deila said that he's confident that Barraza is up to the task amid the challenging circumstances.
"Sean has been a close contact, so he's not available for the game tomorrow. But Luis is ready, so he's going to play," Deila said.
"Luis has been fighting for now two years to be close to the team and I'm very happy now that he gets a chance. He's talented, young, he's been working really hard and now the time has come and we're looking forward to the game to see how Luis is going to do. I'm very confident he will have a good game."
Despite the adversity in the lead-up, Deila said his team is very much looking forward to the match. The Cityzens are down 1-0 on aggregate after the first leg at Red Bull Arena back in March, but Deila said he took encouragement from how the team played against one of the most formidable clubs in the tournament.
Additionally, the game provides NYCFC with an opportunity to wash away the bitter taste of their agonizing playoff defeat to Orlando City in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, which saw them come out on the short end of one of the wildest penalty kick shootouts in MLS history.
Concacaf Champions League highlights: NYCFC 0, Tigres UANL 1
"We are looking forward to the game," Deila said. "It's been a very strange season, and we are 1-0 down, but we showed in the game last time that we can do something against Tigres. Tigres is a really good team, it says something about us as well. Tomorrow we're going to go out and fight to show that we are capable to go into the semifinal.
"We wanted to play all the games all through, but it was a very, very exciting game and a tough game and mentally negative game in the end to lose in Orlando. But we've had a lot of time to deal with that. I think the boys have been handled changes during the season, it's been so, so good to just look forward, deal with things and get on with things. We have raised ourselves before after a disappointing game and we'll do that again. I think the boys now the last weeks have been training really good, they've been very professional and are looking forward to the game tomorrow. It's a big game for us and we want to finish with a trophy now before we go home for Christmas."
In a normal year, NYCFC would have had to travel to Tigres' notoriously hostile Estadio Universitario for the second leg, but will instead play it in Orlando, where NYCFC have experience playing in this summer's MLS is Back Tournament.
Asked if that could provide his team with any sort of advantage, forward Taty Castellanos said that he feels as though when taking all the variables into consideration, all of that is probably a wash: While NYCFC have played in Orlando recently, Castellanos said the drastic shift in climate and same-day travel still makes it plenty challenging, while Tigres has to contend with a lengthy trip to a new country in unfamiliar surroundings.
"The truth is it's complicated, honestly, because earlier this season we played in Orlando a few games and those didn't really go well for us even though there were no fans and it was a neutral site," Castellanos said. "The weather definitely affects us. It's really cold in New York and it's warm in Orlando, and we're traveling down the same day so that could hurt us, just changing climates so quickly.
"But for them, they also don't have it easy obviously, they are traveling to a different country, they're playing in a new stadium, so I think personally that it's an even game. It's even on both sides. I don't think it's necessarily better for us, but we go in knowing that we're down 1-0 but we have a lot of confidence that we can play well and with that confidence and that mentality I'm sure that we can win."