Michael Perez (R) of Mexico's Guadalajara vies for the ball with Bradley Wright-Phillips (L) of New York Red Bull during the CONCACAF Champions League first leg semifinals match at Akron stadium in Guadalajara, Jalisco State, Mexico on April 4, 2018. (ULISES RUIZ/AFP/Getty Images)
They were down a man, down a goal and down to a few precious minutes when Bradley Wright-Phillips emerged in the Chivas de Guadalajara box.
The New York Red Bulls forward, who has played a major role in his team’s march to a first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, had the potential equalizer, the critical away goal, on his right foot.
But the opportunity disappeared almost as soon as it was created. After Wright-Phillips took a slight touch, Chivas goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota raced off his line to grab the ball.
It proved to be the best chance on a frustrating night for the Red Bulls, who were punished for a first-half turnover in midfield and fell to Chivas, 1-0, in the first leg of the semifinals in front of an announced crowd of 41,028 at Estadio Akron Wednesday night.
The second leg will be played at Red Bull Arena next Tuesday. The winner faces either Toronto FC or Club America in the two-legged final. TFC won the contentious opening leg, 3-1, at BMO Field Tuesday night.
“If we score that goal, then we get out of here feeling really good about the result and feeling like the game went as planned,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said in a post-match press conference. “A little unfortunate for us, but a big save. We don’t get our away goal, but we’ll be ready at Red Bull Arena to really push things.”
Isaac Brizuela scored the lone goal in the 26th minute as Chivas, which had 62.8 percent of possession, hit the Red Bulls on a counterattack following a turnover by Tyler Adams in the midfield in the 26th minute. With the Red Bulls numbers pushed forward following a free kick, Adams’ attempted pass to Sean Davis went array and Rodolfo Pizarro picked it off.
Pizarro, who struck for a brace on the weekend in a 2-1 league win over Morelia, ran at Adams, spinning the young central midfielder before slipping to Isaac Brizuela, who scored low inside the far post from 20 yards out as Luis Robles charged off his line to challenge.
“Pizarro was probably the best player on the field. We knew that going into the game he was their best player,” Marsch said. “He finds space, he’s good at wrong-footing defenders and going at guys and setting up little attacking plays. Then obviously the goal is a mistake on our part and for the ball to then land at Pizarro’s feet and be running at our backline, that’s a recipe for success for them and a disaster for us.”
The Red Bulls, who suffered their first loss of the competition, had a penalty shout on the hour mark when it appeared Carlos Cisneros handled the ball in the box, but Panamanian referee John Pitti didn’t make the call. Pitti also didn’t send off Jair Pereira, already booked in the first half, when the Guadalajara defender put his hand around Davis’ neck during a scrum after Pizarro pulled Adams back at midfield and was carded.
Marsch went with the same formation utilized in a 3-1 win over Club Tijuana in the clinching second leg of the quarterfinals, opting for three center backs with the understanding that his team would be put under pressure for spells.
The Red Bulls entered the match with eight players — seven starters — one yellow card away from suspension and will be without Aurelien Collin and Alex Muyl for the second leg back in Harrison after both were booked in the opening 45 minutes.
Collin picked up his second yellow card in the 73rd minute, forcing the Red Bulls to play the final 17 minutes and five additional minutes of stoppage time with 10 men.
“Now the responsibility falls on us to go back to our place and to do everything we can to find a way to emerge,” Marsch said. “It will take everything we have, it will take a great performance, it will take us being on top of all the little things, all the details because if we give up one goal we make it very difficult on ourselves. But we’ll regroup, we’ll recharge and we’ll be ready for leg two.”
- A night of the wrong firsts: The Red Bulls were held scoreless for the first time in five CCL matches and were defeated for the first time in the competition after going 3-0-1 in their first four games.
- Switching things up: In nine overall matches — five in the CCL and four in MLS — the Red Bulls have yet to use the same starting XI. That trend continues next Tuesday with first leg starters Alex Muyl and Aurelien Collin suspended for the second leg due to yellow card accumulation
- There’s no place like home: The Red Bulls have flexed their muscles at Red Bull Arena this season, outscoring opponents, 12-1, in four overall matches. That includes a 2-0 win over Olimpia in the second leg of the CCL Round of 16 and a 3-1 victory over Club Tijuana in the second leg of the quarterfinals. However, a pro-Chivas crowd is expected at RBA next Tuesday.
Hear Jesse Marsch’s entire post-match press conference below