When Liverpool stunned the soccer sphere by making up a three-goal deficit against Barcelona in last season’s UEFA Champions League semifinals, the Reds and Jurgen Klopp gave coaches at every level ammunition to motivate their sides in dire scenarios — including Luis Marin, coach of Costa Rica’s AD San Carlos.
“We think in soccer anything can happen,” said Marin, whose team trails New York City FC by two goals in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16.
The task of defeating the Major League Soccer side will be tough during Wednesday’s 6 p.m. ET second leg at Red Bull Arena. NYCFC leads 5-3 on aggregate. The quintet of NYCFC road goals requires San Carlos to record at least a 3-0 road triumph to advance.
“We have a chance,” said Marin, whose team is without a victory in its last seven contests. “It depends on us, and we feel we can get it done.”
After Tuesday’s training session at Red Bull Arena, New York City coach Ronny Deila said he thinks it’s important to score first. Should NYCFC tally the initial goal, then San Carlos would require at least four to advance.
San Carlos has to contain Heber, who provided NYCFC with a hat trick in Costa Rica last Thursday.
“When you have players like Heber, you don’t need a lot of chances to score goals, which provides security within the team,” Deila said.
Heber missed eight matches in 2019 with various soft tissue ailments, but managed a team-leading 15 goals in 22 appearances after transferring from Rijeka in the Croatian top tier.
“I hope this season I don’t get a lot of injuries like I did last season so I can help my team on the pitch,” Heber said.
While Heber is expected to be in the starting XI for the second leg, Deila is cognizant of the travails presented in a congested schedule – especially if his squad moves onto the quarterfinals.
“I will think about the players we need to think about with load,” Deila said. “We have a whole season to think about.”
The regular season commences Sunday in Columbus, and Deila is perplexed that MLS teams competing in the CCL are not afforded more days to gain proper fitness.
“It’s hard to say how many matches it takes to get fit. It depends where you start,” Deila said with a chuckle. “It’s a challenge here when the players haven’t trained football for 2 1/2 months. So, you need more time then. I don’t understand why the teams don’t train when the season is over. If we could choose, I’m sure we would start training in December to get ready.”
Deila’s team will have to acclimate to their sixth home environment since the inception of the franchise in 2015 — on this occasion at the residence of their biggest rival, the New York Red Bulls — because the team’s typical home, Yankee Stadium, was unavailable for the match and did not pass Concacaf’s match standards.
NYCFC previously used Rentschler Field and Fordham University’s Jack Coffey Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, and Citi Field and Belson Stadium in Queens as alternative venues.
“Everybody agrees that is not what they want,” Deila said. “When the situation is like it is, it’s important we think about winning and to win it’s important to not travel a lot.
“It’s a big game for us and hopefully the fans will come and support us.”
Had Belson Stadium been approved by Concacaf, the team may have drawn a more vibrant group of fans. Belson is the home of St. John’s University and the New York City FC Academy, and is located in the five boroughs.
The president of the club’s most recognized supporters’ group, The Third Rail, said the group will boycott the match because it is unacceptable to compete at their rival’s home.
“It’s not what our fans want, but I wish they come and support us because with them we are strong,” Heber said. “For the players, it doesn’t change much. We need to play strong and it doesn’t matter where.”
San Carlos will have a group of traveling supporters pushing for what may be an impractical assignment, but the team is resolute its journey will not be in vain.
“We are going to show what kind of team we are,” San Carlos forward Jorman Aguilar said. “And we will give everything we have.”