Liga MX clubs are always the boogeyman to Major League Soccer clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League. Thanks to a stellar performance by goalkeeper Luis Robles the New York Red Bulls are closer to defeating the monster next door, ending the first leg of the quarterfinal up 2-0 against Club Tijuana.
The play was largely physical, with both teams being whistled for aggressive play. In the fifth minute, Damián Pérez came running in to get a shot on a square ball from Miller Bolaños. Pérez got all of the shot, however Red Bulls defender Tim Parker came in late and hit Pérez high around the knee. The referee kept his whistle in his pocket, although it could easily have been a yellow card.
In the eighth minute, Gibran Lajud made a fantastic save on a Sean Davis shot. A minute later, Tijuana’s defense was caught napping. The Red Bulls made a run in, Pérez intercepted a pass for Alex Muyl, who was in on goal, but his redirection went directly to Bradley Wright-Phillips. Phillips was able to create space against Juan Carlos “Topo” Valenzuela and put the shot into the top of the net.
Minutes later, Danny Royer would hit a shot from distance that whistled just wide of Lajud’s net.
In the 19th minute, a cross from Luis “Quick” Mendoza found José Alberto “Beto” García in the box, but Beto’s header went straight to RBNY goalkeeper Luis Robles. Robles would be tested again in the 24th minute on a long-range blast from Pérez and in the 26th minute on a header redirection from Ignacio Rivero, but he was up to the task on both occasions.
In the 30th minute, Quick Mendoza would suffer a hard foul from Kemar Lawrence along the side of the 18 yard box. No card was issued, and on the resulting free kick Luis Robles made another fantastic save on the Pablo Aguilar header.
It was clear the Red Bulls had done their homework on Tijuana. The visitors were able to get numbers back and clog passing lanes whenever Tijuana got the ball. Jesse Marsch’s vaunted high-press worked well, even if it did mean they committed a high number of fouls.
Tijuana started the second half off well, maintaining more possession early. But Robles would make incredible save after incredible save. He stopped a long range blast in the 50th minute, a Beto García header in the 53rd minute, a point blank stop on Bolaños in the 55th minute, and a stop on a tight angle from Quick Mendoza in the 57th minute to keep Red Bulls up.
Xolos had one get past Robles in the 65th minute, but it was ruled to be offside. In the 67th minute, Bradley Wright-Phillips would make it 2-0 when he slipped through the Tijuana defense and hit one past Lajud.
But it was the Luis Robles show at Estadio Caliente, as the Red Bulls goalkeeper made 13 saves to give RBNY the two away goal advantage heading into the second leg. As the game ended, there was a scrum with plenty of pushing and shoving between the sides. Cooler heads prevailed and the teams left the pitch to resume the festivities next week.
Tijuana will face Tigres UANL at El Volcán in Liga MX play on Saturday before heading to New Jersey to play the Red Bulls next Tuesday. The Red Bulls will head back to New Jersey to host the Portland Timbers on Saturday before the teams meet again.
Club Tijuana: Gibran Lajud; Damián Pérez, Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Pablo Aguilar, Omar Mendoza; Damián Musto; Mateus Gonçalves (Rubio Rubin, 46’), Ignacio Rivero (Luis Chávez, 70’), Luis Mendoza (Ignacio Malcorra, 90+1’); Miller Bolaños, José Alberto García
New York Red Bulls: Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Aaron Long, Michael Murillo, Tim Parker; Daniel Royer (Derrick Etienne, 80’), Tyler Adams (Connor Lade, 80’), Marc Rzatkowski (Florian Valot, 41’), Sean Davis, Alex Muyl; Bradley Wright-Phillips
Scoring: Club Tijuana - None; New York Red Bulls - Bradley Wright-Phillips (9’, 67’)
Disciplinary: Club Tijuana - Pablo Aguilar (Yellow - 75’), Damián Musto (Yellow - 90+5’); New York Red Bulls - Sean Davis (Yellow - 17’), Alex Muyl (Yellow - 59’), Luis Robles (Yellow - 80’), Derrick Etienne (Yellow - 90+5’)