By RYAN TOLMICH
HARRISON, N.J. — Having gone 0-1-1 in the club’s only prior CONCACAF Champions League appearance, the New York Red Bulls emerged from Tuesday’s clash with FAS with the club’s first ever CCL victory.
Goals from recently acquired forward Saer Sene and winger Lloyd Sam were enough to earn the Red Bulls a 2-0 victory over the El Salvadoran side Tuesday at Red Bull Arena.
After controlling possession throughout the game’s first 10 minutes, the Red Bulls broke through in the 11th minute by way of Sene.
In a sequence that would be repeated many times throughout the opening half, the Red Bulls attack was kickstarted by Ambroise Oyongo, who provided his first of many crosses to forward Tim Cahill. Cahill headed the ball down and into the path of Sene, who finished into a virtually open net to give the Red Bulls the early lead.
“It’s just a great feeling as a striker,” Sene said. “For me, it’s been a long (time) that I didn’t play (due to injury) but to get back on the field, to play 90 minutes and score, it’s a great debut for me, but it’s just the start.”
“First start, first goal,” said Red Bulls winger Lloyd Sam on Sene’s performance. “Long may it continue.”
From that point on, the Red Bulls continued to work to expose the FAS defense, as well as their short-statured backline, on the wings through Oyongo and Sam. Seemingly every Red Bull attack was generated through working the ball down the sideline, as the hosts exploited the three-man FAS defense time and time again.
“Our whole game plan tonight here, with them on the road, was to exploit the wings,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “That was 100 percent in scouting… You know if you’re a winger and want to play in a game like this and also have Cahill, whose also the best jumper in the league, perhaps the world, and Saer who’s six-foot-(three), you know the game plan is to get it wide and provide service.”
“I didn’t expect them to be that short,” joked Sam after the game. “Once we saw that, I thought we could definitely win the aerial battle with Tim, obviously, you know how good he is in the air.”
Oyongo and Cahill nearly connected again in the 31st minute to double the Red Bull lead. The 23-year-old Cameroonian once again found his way into space down the left side before crossing to Cahill, who, this time took a shot of his own. FAS goalkeeper Adolfo Menendez Jr. was able to parry Cahill’s effort up and into the crossbar to prevent the Red Bulls from doubling the score.
Sene also got a chance to add to the Red Bull lead in the 55th minute, but the Frenchman failed to take advantage of an open net after rounding the keeper. After receiving a through ball from Cahill, the forward took a pair of touches before poking past a charging Menendez Jr., but the ensuing tight-angled shot went flying over the bar.
“He could have had three or four goals,” said Mike Petke on Sene’s performance. “He took his goal very well and he need a little bit more time to get in shape, but he’s very close to being there.”
After being repeatedly rebuffed in the quest for an insurance goal, the Red Bulls finally got the much-needed second score from Sam in the 70th minute. The English winger, who was put through by midfielder Peguy Luyindula, fired a shot off Menendez’s palms and in, giving the Red Bulls enough breathing room to close out the remaining 20 minutes.
“I was happy to get that before I came off,” said Sam, who was subbed off moments after finding the back of the net. “I’m happy to score. Peguy just slipped me in, I had a touch and I just hit it near post.”
With the victory, the Red Bulls pick up three points to open their 2014-15 CCL campaign. Meanwhile, the Red Bull win eliminates FAS from the tournament after the El Salvadoran outfit’s two prior losses to Group 3 leaders, the Montreal Impact.
After the game, Cahill acknowledged the task at hand when it comes to CCL play, but the Australian forward stated that this was not a competition that the Red Bulls would take likely
“If you just keep getting through and getting through,” Cahill said, “you get yourself in a position where, hang on a minute, let’s really have a good crack at this. We’ve got players that are sitting, that weren’t even in the squad tonight, that want to have a crack at this.”
The Red Bulls will resume CCL play September 17 with a visit to the Impact. However, in the meantime, the club now faces a short week before a return to MLS play with a trip to RFK Stadium to take on Eastern Conference leading D.C. United set for August 11.