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Dos a cero: Red Bulls bounce Tijuana in first leg of CONCACAF quarterfinals

Bradley Wright-Phillips struck for a brace and Luis Robles had a virtuoso performance in goal to help lead the New York Red Bulls to a 2-0 win over Club Tijuana in the opening leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals at Estadio Caliente Tuesday night.

Our two big leaders — Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips — come up really big for us in this game,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “Luis made save after save after save. He’s a great goalie, we know he’s capable of that.”

Wright-Phillips put the Red Bulls in front in the ninth minute, capitalizing on a poor attempted clearance by Tijuana’s Damián Pérez to roof his point-blank shot.

Midfielder Marc Rzatkowski started the sequence by playing to Daniel Royer, who sent a back-post cross intended for Alex Muyl. Pérez picked off the pass, but rolled the ball directly to Wright-Phillips to give the Red Bulls the lead for a third CCL content.

“Coming into this game we knew it was going to be a hostile affair, we knew we were going to go up against a very good team in Club Tijuana that has a lot of quality,” Robles said. “We also knew they wanted to start fast so for us to get the goal right off the bat helped neutralize their threat and, if anything, put them on their back foot which helped us a lot.”

Wright-Phillips scored his third CCL goal in the 67th minute to give the Red Bulls two massive away goals.

Tyler Adams passed to Florian Valot, who came on for an injured Rzatkowski in the 42nd minute. The French midfielder signed from Red Bulls 2 in the offseason, turned on the ball and slipped a pass to Wright-Phillips, who took two short touches before scoring on a low shot from just inside the 18-yard box.

 

Robles had one of his best performances as Red Bulls goalkeeper with a career-high 13 saves for the clean sheet. It started with six first-half saves, including four spectacular stops over a six-minute span. The captain dove to deny Pérez’s attempt from a distance and then got his right hand on a flicked header by Ignacio Rivero one minute later.

Robles also robbed defender Pablo Aguilar, who snapped a header on frame just past the half-hour mark. Robles dove to his left to push the attempt away for the sixth Xolos corner kick.

“It wasn’t just the saves, it was the poise under pressure,” Marsch said. “He set the tone for our team to not panic and, even though we were under a lot of pressure, to manage ourselves appropriately. Luis was fantastic.”

The hosts turned up the heat in Estadio Caliente after halftime and had the Red Bulls under immense pressure. But they couldn’t solve Robles, who dove to his right to corral a José Alberto García header and then came off his line to get big and knock aside a Miller Bolaños point-blank chance a minute later.

 

In the 56th minute, Robles lunged to his right after Luis Chávez found space in the box. Xolos thought they had equalized in the 64th minute when Rivero headed a rebound past Robles, but the offside flag was raised.

Six minutes from full time, Robles got low to parry aside a Bolaños attempt and then stayed on his line to save another Chávez shot, this from 12 yards out.

The two-legged series continues at Red Bull Arena next Tuesday. The winner faces either Guadalajara or the Seattle Sounders in the semifinals.

“This series is far from over,” Marsch said. “We respect Tijuana. We know they’re a very talented team. In a week’s time they’ll probably get one or two players back from injury and they’ll have a good team to put on the field back at Red Bull Arena.”

Three Things

  1. Strong debut for Parker: The newest Red Bull, who joined his teammates in Tijuana Sunday, earned his first start and had a solid 90-minute effort parterning centrally with Aaron Long in a defense that was credited with 42 clearances. Parker, who was acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps Friday, was a physical force and won everything in the air. Aurelien Collin, who started both matches in the Round of 16, didn’t make the trip because of a green card appointment.
  2. Davis suspended for second leg: The Red Bulls entered the game with four players one yellow card away from a one-game ban and Davis was the first in referee Kimbell Ward’s book for a midfield challenge in the 16th minute. With Jesse Marsch saying he’d likely rotate players for the MLS opener against Portland Saturday, its a safe bet Davis will be in the XI at Red Bull Arena.
  3. History made: The Red Bulls’ 2-0 win over Tijuana was just the third time in CONCACAF Champions League history that an MLS team has won a game in Mexico. MLS teams are 3-38-8 when playing competitive matches in Mexico It is the first time an MLS team has won in a knockout situation, and the first time an MLS team has won by multiple goals. The other MLS wins in Mexico were both 1-0 wins in the group stage of the competition. The win broke a 21-match winless streak for MLS teams in Mexico.

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