HARRISON, N.J. — The last thing the New York Red Bulls needed Tuesday night was to concede early, to give Club Tijuana a glimmer of hope with an all-important away goal.
Yet, there they were trailing in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals after Luis Mendoza scored for Xolos, cutting the Red Bulls advantage to a singe goal.
It might not have been the start they wanted, but these young Red Bulls showed resolve. They took a punch from Tijuana, settled themselves and hit their Liga MX rivals on the counter to level before tacking on a one-two combination late for a 3-1 victory.
When it was over, the Red Bulls stood in a circle in the middle of the field happy they made history by advancing to the semifinals, 5-1 on aggregate — but far from satisfied.
“It’s massive. We want to get as far as we can,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “We believe in the players we’ve got here, the coaching staff, the system. We want to get as far as we can. We want to prove we’re a good team. So far we’ve done well.”
Wright-Phillips has been the catalyst with an unusually hot start to the 2018 season. The veteran known for his scoring — and he scored a pair of massive goals at Estadio Caliente in the first leg — assisted on all three goals in the second leg.
He now has four goals and five assists in five games in all competitions.
“As we say, Wright-Phillips is supernatural,” Michael Murillo said. “He’s an excellent player, both on and off the field. He’s a great help and it’s a privilege for us to have him.”
Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch started three center backs knowing Tijuana was going to come out flying and Xolos did. In just the second minute, Luis Mendoza put a deflected shot from 24 yards off the crossbar.
Eight minutes later, Mendoza tapped in a Rubio Rubin cross to put Xolos ahead.
Mendoza had a chance to level the series in the 23rd minute when he took the ball off his chest and unleashed a rocket on frame. But Luis Robles, who made a career-high 13 saves in the first leg, parried the attempt off the crossbar.
That save proved massive because just five minutes later, Tyler Adams leveled on a brilliantly executed counter following a Xolos corner kick. Wright-Phillips started the sequence at the top of his own 18-yard box with acres of space in front of him. He played to Murillo on his right and the Panamanian fullback sent an inch-perfect cross to Adams, who tapped in from the edge of the six.
“I think that today we came out with an edge,” Adams said. “Internally within the locker room, we were determined to get a result today no matter what the circumstances were. We knew we weren’t going to come out there and play scared.”
Marsch’s substitutions were spot on with both Marc Rzatkowski and Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra scoring their first goals for the Red Bulls to see off the tie. It started with a nice give-and-go between Murillo and Florian Valot, who cut the ball back to Wright-Phillips who settled before finding Rzatkowski for the go-ahead goal in the 70th minute.
Six minutes later, after another Xolos turnover, Wright-Phillips played a sensational ball to Kaku who sent the sparse crowd of 6,393 home happy.
“It’s a statement about our league, our club, our team. This is a big group effort,” Marsch said. “We’re not done. This is only the quarterfinals. It feels like a big victory and a big moment, but it’s only the quarterfinals.”