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Heber hat trick powers New York City FC past San Carlos in CCL opener

The second leg will be played at Red Bull Arena Feb. 26

USA's New York City FC Brazilian player Heber Araujo (2nd L) celebrates with teammates his goal against Costa Rica's San Carlos during their CONCACAF Champions League match at Alejandro Morera Soto Stadium in Alajuela, Costa Rica on February 20, 2020. (Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP)

Heber struck for a hat trick to help lift New York City FC to a 5-3 win over AD San Carlos in both team’s inaugural Concacaf Champions League match Thursday night at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

The scene shifts to Red Bull Arena for the second leg of the Round of 16 Wednesday night with NYCFC, which also received second-half goals by Alex Callens and Alexandru Mitrita, in full control.

Heber opened the scoring in the 13th minute, sliding at the near post to get a piece of Ronald Matarrita’s curling cross just outside the six-yard box.

The Brazilian was dangerous throughout, with goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton forced to make a save in the fourth minute after Heber was played in behind by Matarrita. Keaton Parks then scuffed the rebound over the net.

Heber struck for his second goal in the 35th minute, this time with the service coming from the right by Anton Tinnerholm. ‘The Swedish right back swung a ball in front where Heber and Parks were both unmarked.

Heber was the closest to the cross and gave NYCFC a second away goal.

It came two minutes after Alex Ring snuck behind the leaky San Carlos backline to meet Jesus Medina’s lofted cross, but the NYCFC captain put his header onto the top netting.

Seemingly reeling, San Carlos got a lifeline just before the break when Jorman Aguilar ran onto a long ball from midfield by Randy Chirino, took a settling touch and clinically struck his left-footed shot past Sean Johnson and inside the far post in the 45th minute.

Chirino also had a quality scoring chance in the 24th minute with a half-volley targeted for just under the crossbar. But Johnson got vertical to parry the shot over the crossbar for a San Carlos corner kick.

Costa Rica's San Carlos player Jorman Aguilar (L) vies for the ball with USA's New York City FC player Ronald Matarrita during their CONCACAF Champions League match at Alejandro Morera Soto Stadium in Alajuela, Costa Rica on February 20, 2020. (Photo by Ezequiel BECERRA / AFP)

NYCFC were awarded a penalty kick when Jose David Sanchez handled the ball off the bounce in front of goal five minutes after play resumed.

Heber netted his third from the penalty spot to compete his first NYCFC hat trick and Alex Callens tacked on a fourth goal when he got on the end of an Alexandru Mitrita free kick in the 61st minute.

NYCFC appeared to have heavy legs in the final 30 minutes with Marcos Mena splitting a pair of defenders to head in a Chirino cross in the 63rd minute. CCL king Omar Browne then pulled San Carlos to within a goal in the 79th minute, skipping past a pair of defenders before unleashing a low shot from distance inside the far post.

Browne scored a pair of goals to help Panamanian club CAI Independiente upset Toronto FC and reach the quarterfinals a year ago.

But NYCFC survived a nervy final half hour and extended their lead in second-half stoppage time with Mitrita following up Maxi Moralez’s saved penalty kick to make it five away goals.

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