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NYCFC squander first-half chances in 1-0 loss to Tigres UANL in CCL quarterfinals

Tigres return to Estadio Universitario in Monterrey with the late away goal in their pocket for the second leg.

New York City FC midfielder James Sands passes the ball past Tigres forward Eduardo Vargas (9) during the first half in the first leg of a quarterfinal in the CONCACAF Champions League soccer tournament Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

HARRISON, N.J. — New York City FC couldn’t capitalize on several first-half chances and were punished for it when Eduardo Vargas pounced on a rebound for the second-half stoppage time winner to lift Tigres UANL to a 1-0 win in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals in front of an announced crowd of 10,212 fans at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday.

The second leg will be played next Tuesday at Estadio Universitario in Monterrey, Mexico.

“I think we did a very, very good first half,” NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said. “I think we created a lot of chances. It’s unbelievable we didn’t score a goal. They had one big chance in the first half and I was really, really satisfied with that. Second half, I think we stopped playing. We were playing too many long balls, we should have also kept the ball more.”

The first half was open and attacking, but finished scoreless and that proved to be and advantage for Tigres.

Tigres had the first quality chance when Vargas’ deflected a shot off Maxime Chanot that had Sean Johnson beat, but it went wide 30 seconds after kickoff.

In the third minute, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, one of two changes for Deila, drew a foul on the right edge of the 18-yard box. His service in front of the goal was played off the foot of Keaton Parks, but Alex Callens fired over the net.

In the 12th minute, Tajouri-Shradi was slipped behind the Tigres defense by Parks. Instead of chipping Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman, who charged off his line, Tajouri-Shradi opted for power and the Argentine made the point-blank save. The rebound fell to the Libyan, who fired wide with his right foot.

HARRISON, NEW JERSEY – MARCH 11: Sean Johnson #1 of New York City FC celebrates in the first half against the UANL Tigres during Leg 1 of the quarterfinals during the CONCACAF Champions League match at Red Bull Arena on March 11, 2020 in Harrison, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) 

Two minutes later, Alex Ring won a ball in midfield and quickly played forward to Alexandru Mitrita, who dribbled along the edge of the 18-yard box before firing wide with his low attempt.

Tajouri-Shradi put another well-struck attempt on frame in the 21st minute, but Guzman parried it away for an NYCFC corner kick. Five minutes later, Ring set up Heber, but Guzman came up with another save.

Tigres’ best chance since the opening minute came in the 36th minute when Enner Valencia just missed with an open header in the box.

A minute later, it looked like the Mexican powerhouse had been awarded a penalty kick when Andre-Pierre Gignac went down in the box after contact from James Sands, but referee Juan Calderón didn’t point to the spot.

The last chance for either side in the opening 45 minutes fell to Heber, but his deflected shot caromed off the side netting for a corner kick three minutes from halftime.

It’s very frustrating for me and the players,” Deila said. “I feel sorry for them, when you get so many chances and get the result in the end. But that’s football. In the end, it’s about the skills we can make a difference in the chances we get and also get them away from the ball.”

While NYCFC were the better team in the first half, the second 45 minutes were more even, with Tigres having more of the ball as the half wound down.

I think a little bit is too much transition,” Sands said. “Every time we did win it, we were just going, going, going. Sometimes we just have to put our foot on [the ball] and slow it down a little bit. That will give us the ball more and we’re not defending for so long.”

NYCFC’s final chance came in the 77th minute. Mitrita created some space in the box and played a teasing ball to the edge of the six-yard box that was cleared away by a Tigres defender.

Gignac had a golden chance late, but Johnson did well to parry the powerful shot over the crossbar. Gignac put another attempt on frame deep into stoppage time that Johnson dived to make the save, but the rebound popped out to Vargas who wouldn’t miss, putting Tigres in the driver’s seat heading into the second leg. 

I think we could have done a lot of things better on the night,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day we have to come away with a result.”

NYCFC return to Major League Soccer play to take on FC Dallas in their home opener at Yankee Stadium Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

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