HANOVER, N.J. — The game plan was nearly flawless.
Utilizing a formation with three center backs, the New York Red Bulls locked down Chivas de Guadalajara and their direct approach offensively bypassed the midfield where the hosts were so adept at man-to-man marking.
When the smoke cleared from the opening leg of the Concacaf Champions League semifinals last week at Estadio Akron, there was very little separating the teams. There was one chance taken for Chivas, which capitalized off an error in the midfield and once chance missed by the Red Bulls late.
Now the scene shifts to Red Bull Arena Tuesday night, where the hosts look to bounce back from that 1-0 loss in the first leg to reach the tournament final for the first time.
“With the 1-0 deficit we should feel strongly that coming back to Red Bull Arena we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to find our chances and we’re going to find a way to take care of this series,” coach Jesse Marsch said.
After failing to score an away goal for the first time in this competition, the Red Bulls are supremely confident in their ability to be dangerous in the attacking third at home, where they’ve outscored the opposition, 12-1, in four overall games.
“I think at home we’re definitely going to create more,” forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “I think we just have to good on the day. I don’t think there’s too much to think about. We know what they have to offer now and we have to try and get advantages from that.”
Chivas, meanwhile, will play the same as they did at home, that’s their way, Marsch said. The Red Bulls are expecting a team that will defend man-to-man, that will play high tempo and will look to create chances and score that crucial away goal.
However, Chivas will be without central defender Jair Pereira, who is serving a two-game ban handed down by Concacaf for putting his hand around Sean Davis’ neck in a late-match scuffle.
Veteran Carlos Salcido is likely to fill that role, and according to Marsch, fill it ably. But Chivas will be without a strong, physical presence in the center of their defense.
“Pereira has been a big player for them. He’s good in the air, he’s athletic in the backline, he’s good with his feet and knows their tactics,” Marsch said. “Salcido will step in and he’ll do a great job, but he doesn’t bring the same physical qualities. It will be our job on the day to put their back line on a little bit more pressure and find ways to see if we can punish them.”
The Red Bulls will be without Aurelien Collin and Alex Muyl, who will each sit on yellow card accumulation. But it’s not likely going to alter Marsch’s plans. The Red Bulls should look the way they do at home, likely in a 4-2-3-1 formation and looking to press Guadalajara high.
But who fills the two vacated roles? Marc Rzatkowski has been solid as both a box-to-box midfielder and out wide and Florian Valot has impressed in pressure-packed situations. Of course, there’s also Kaku, who Marsch said might have come off the substitute’s bench at Chivas if Collin hadn’t been sent off for his second bookable offense.
“Given what the game plan was and what we needed down there, I think the decision to not start him wasn’t easy, but one that made sense,” Marsch said. “Now we’ll have to adjust and see how he factors into this week.”
A 2-0 Red Bulls win will book their spot in the final. Should Chivas score an away goal, 3-1 is the necessary scoreline. Either way, in Harrison, the Red Bulls believe the chances needed will be there.
“I think now coming back home we’ll be more confident, we’re going to be comfortable in front of the goal, we have a lot of good, quality attacking players and we know we’re going to be able to put one away,” midfielder Tyler Adams said. “It’s being able to manage defensively now and keep a clean sheet and then try to score as many goals as we can.”