The weather at kickoff for the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals between the New York Red Bulls and Santos Laguna will be brutal, better suited for the Iditarod than a soccer match.
According to weather.com, the temperature at kickoff is forecast to be 25 degrees with 11-mph winds.
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said temperatures in the 60s or 70s on a clear day is perfect for soccer.
Danny Royer disagrees.
For the way the Red Bulls want to play, the Austrian winger believes Tuesday night’s frigid conditions will be “perfect” for the club to instill their frenetic pressing and counter-pressing style on the game.
“We’ll see how cold it’s going to be tomorrow, but our style never changes,” Royer said after training on Monday. “It only changes when we play on a really hot summer day that you have to slow down a bit or play a little differently. But in these conditions, especially the conditions tomorrow, it’s perfect for us to play the way we want to play.”
The grounds crew at Red Bull Arena have been working overtime to get the pitch ready for what will be the first of three MLS-Liga MX showdowns in the CCL quarterfinals. On Monday they were plowing several inches of snow off the laid tarp and Armas said there were heat lamps to thaw it out.
All clean! 😍 pic.twitter.com/RjvLmgv7Yp
— Red Bull Arena (@RedBullArena) March 5, 2019
As was the case in the second leg against Atletico Pantoja in the Round of 16, which the Red Bulls won, 3-0, the field won’t be able to be watered before because of icing concerns. That goes against what the Red Bulls want to do because they prefer a slick surface where the ball moves quicker.
But generally for many MLS teams, the colder the weather, the more important the game is, whether it’s CCL in February and March or the MLS Cup playoffs in November and December.
“That type of weather usually signifies a certain part of the year and we like to associate it with the playoffs,” Armas said. “When its cold out and you’re playing when it’s cold out, it means you’re alive and if you’re playing early in the season in games like that, maybe it’s important too.”
The sub-freezing conditions should also be a detriment to the visitors from Mexico. Whether it’s in World Cup qualifiers in Columbus or CCL quarterfinals at Red Bull Arena and BMO Field in Toronto, Liga MX teams have traditionally struggled.
But Armas said that’s not necessarily a precursor to a positive result for his team Tuesday night.
“In our minds, they’re sharp, they’re in midseason form, their fitness is in midseason form, they’re prepared, they’re talented, they’re organized and clear about what they try to do.” he said. “They’re in a major competition like we are and we’re going after the same thing.”
Santos, currently sixth in the Liga MX standings, blasted Marathon from Honduras, 11-2, on aggregate in the Round of 16. While Armas was quick to praise Argentine forward Julio Furch as a constant threat, he said there’s multiple players in a fluid attack to be concerned with.
“They’re clever, they’re fast, different each of them and some other players in the wide spots, but the player quality is much the same,” Armas said. “They can get by you, they’re quick, technical, which sets up for crosses, final plays. We’ll have to be good because we think that’s one of their strengths.”
Mexican teams have also enjoyed a distinct edge when playing American competition on their soil.
However, a year ago the Red Bulls secured a historic 2-0 win over Club Tijuana, the first time an MLS team beat a Mexican team by two goals in a knockout round match. Since, Toronto FC won at Guadalajara (though it forced a penalty-kick shootout where Chivas emerged victorious) in the second leg of the CCL final and Sporting Kansas City defeated Toluca, 2-0, in the second leg of the Round of 16 last week.
Regardless of weather conditions in New Jersey or the the difficulty of playing at altitude and with smog in Mexico, Armas said the best part about Tuesday’s matchup is that it is being played at Red Bull Arena.
“We’re at home, at our building, in front of our supporters,” Armas said. “That’s what we love most about tomorrow night. We’ll go after it.”