Here are three things we learned from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-0 win over Atlético Pantoja in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 opening leg at Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez in Santo Domingo Wednesday night.
‘Professional, mature performance’
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas knows how difficult it is to navigate the away leg in the Concacaf Champions League. If his club needed a reminder, it came from Toronto FC’s stunning 4-0 defeat at Independiente in Panama Tuesday night.
“We feel good about coming on the road in this competition,” Armas said after the match. “I think we even saw last night with some results, nothing is given. So, the mentality is right, sticking to the game plan of how we wanted this thing to look tonight.”
Wednesday, the Red Bulls picked up where they left off a year ago in the CCL, when they earned positive results away from home against Olimpia and Club Tijuana en route to the semifinals. They scored two away goals and didn’t concede on the other end, putting themselves in the driver’s seat to advance to the quarterfinals.
“I think there was a really professional and mature performance by everyone,” winger Danny Royer said. “It was really important to keep the clean sheet and score away goals. I think we could have scored three, four and five goals. That’s something we have to improve in the next weeks.”
Big three click early
That was the case Wednesday night, with Royer’s headed ball to Wright-Phillips leading to a Pantoja own goal. And Kaku set up Royer’s insurance goal with a sensational service.
— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) February 21, 2019
But Royer was quick to point out there is plenty of work to do.
“It feels good,” Royer said. “You always want to have a good start and you always want to score and help the team. Also, I have to be a little critical today because I think I could have scored two or three.”
Keeping it clean
A year ago, the Red Bulls had the league’s most stout defense, a unit that conceded the fewest goals in the regular season.
It was more of the same Wednesday night with Pantoja offering little resistance as the Red Bulls earned the first of what could be many clean sheets in 2019.
“We take a lot of pride in shutouts and defending and putting things on their terms,” Armas said, adding that a head injury to Connor Lade, who was replaced by Kemar Lawrence at halftime, was the lone negative of the night.
With Aaron Long and Tim Parker partnering centrally, Lade and Michael Amir Murillo playing out wide and Sean Davis and Marc Rzatkowski providing cover in defensive midfield, Luis Robles didn’t have to make one save to earn the shutout.
“They almost created no chances,” Royer said. “I think a couple of shots from outside the box, but I think we defended really well. … Not only the backline, but just everyone on the field knew what to do today, that it’s not the beautiful game, that we have to defend in certain moments and play up the field, and then to play our game.”