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New York Red Bulls fall to Santos Laguna 2-0 in first leg of CCL quarterfinals

New York Red Bulls midfielder Alejandro Romero Gamarra (10) reacts after a call from referee Said Martinez during the first half of a match at Red Bull Arena. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

HARRISON, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls paid dearly for missed first-half chances, while Santos Laguna capitalized on two opportunities on either side of halftime to win 2-0 in the opening leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals at frigid Red Bull Arena Tuesday night.

It wasn’t quite as egregious as the match against Guadalajara in the semifinals a year ago, during which the Red Bulls dominated possession for most of the match but were held to a 0-0 draw as Chivas advanced to the final.

But in knockout competitions, its usually about taking your chances and again the Red Bulls failed in that department.

“It’s tough. We had those opportunities and we should have been able to score, especially in the first half,” Kaku said through a translator. “Ideally we could have scored two to three goals in the first half how well we were playing with all the opportunities we had. We just couldn’t convert them.”

It was there for the Red Bulls early, when Bradley Wright-Phillips was denied by Santos goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco, who dove to his right to parry the ball away in the fourth minute.

And there were two golden chances in the 35th minute as Danny Royer got on the end of a deflected Wright-Phillips attempt, but his point-blank shot was saved by Orozco, who scrambled off his line.

Moments later, Wright-Phillips latched onto a Marc Rzatkowski service, but his open header sailed wide.

“There’s a couple of clear ones, like on the goal line that, then we just we just didn’t take full opportunity of,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said.

The game changed three minutes before halftime when Santos Laguna scored the critical away goal three minutes from halftime on a well-worked, six-pass sequence that ended with Argentine forward Julio Furch playing to Diego Valdés. The Chilean midfielder opened up to give the impression of attacking toward the right post, but snuck his shot inside the near post.

It was the first goal the Red Bulls conceded at Red Bull Arena in 799 minutes across all competitions dating back to last year.

Furch was then opportunistic two minutes into the second half, tapping in at the far post after Javier Correa flicked a ball played into him by Brian Lozano, helping the Liga MX side return to Estadio Corona for the second leg on March 12 in the driver’s seat.

“Going into halftime you feel like it’s there for us because of what the first half looked like,” Armas said. “And then to come out in the second half and as things really didn’t even settle down you’re down 2-0. I think it did rattle us a little bit.”

Santos Laguna coach Salvador Reyes wanted to challenge the Red Bulls by utilizing his team’s strengths — forwards Furch and Javier Correa against the Red Bulls center back tandem of Tim Parker and Aaron Long.

“We wanted to go one-on-one with their center backs with [Furch and Correa] collaborating well and other players like [Brian] Lozano and players on the outside able to open the space and create some opportunities,” he said through a translator.

The Red Bulls know there’s major lifting to do in Torreon next week, but there’s confidence based on the chances created at Red Bull Arena.

“It’s obviously going to be tough going there, but what we did show is that we created chances and if we just finished those it’s obviously a different game,” Wright-Phillips said. “So, I get confidence from that and the team has to. We know we can create chances against them, but it’s not great giving up two goals.”

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