Going on the road and winning in Mexico has long been a near impossible task for MLS sides. The New York Red Bulls did just that last week, winning on the road at Club Tijuana to seal a massive advantage heading into the second leg.
Now, though, they face an even bigger challenge: holding on.
The Red Bulls return home on Tuesday to face Xolos in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals following a 2-0 win in Mexico. With two away goals in their pocket, the Red Bulls are in an advantageous position, but not one that is entirely safe.
“I think the guys know that it’s going to be even tougher,” said Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored both goals in the first leg win. “If I was playing on that team I’d come here with nothing to lose and try to get some goals. We’ve got to prepare for that.
“We’ve got to deal with what the first half is going to be like. It’s probably going to be frantic, you know? We’re going to have to ride that wave and just see it out. We’re in a good position but we’re expecting it to be a very tough game.”
Even though they sealed three points, the first leg was a tough one for the Red Bulls. They were outshot, 30-11, in a match that saw goalkeeper Luis Robles put in a stunning performance. Robles’ efforts alongside Wright-Phillips’ goals were just enough to not just seal a win, but two vital away goals.
Now, the Red Bulls have to withstand even more pressure. Club Tijuana fired those 30 shots in a match where they were wary of allowing away goal. Forced into the need to chase, the Mexican side is expected to come out even more aggressive.
Due to suspension, the Red Bulls’ midfield will need to be shuffled as Sean Davis will miss out on the match. However, after resting a majority of the team’s starters in this past weekend’s 4-0 win over the Portland Timbers, the Red Bulls should be fresh.
“I think we’re ready for some pressure,” said Tim Parker, who made his Red Bulls debut in the first leg. “Obviously, getting two goals on the road means a lot for us. It gives us a little bit of an advantage coming back home. We have to keep in mind that they’re a good team, they’re going to want to play and they’re going to put some pressure on us.”
“You don’t want to sit and absorb,” Wright-Phillips added. “I think you’ve got to see how the game is played. We’re not built to sit back and just chill out. We’re going to make it hard for them. We’re at home. We’re normally good at home. I think the pressure is kind of on them. It’s not really on us. The pressure is on them so we’ve just got to play our game.”
If the Red Bulls hold on following Tuesday, they’d seal a semifinal matchup with the winner of the Seattle Sounders’ clash with Chivas de Guadalajara. A win would also mark just the third time an MLS team advanced past a Mexican team in a CCL knockout series.
Still, the Red Bulls can’t count that chicken quite yet as they have to survive what should be an onslaught from Tijuana on Tuesday.
“We talked last year with the disappointment of losing in the playoffs that it was the first year where we felt that we played brave and with courage and went after things,” said Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch. “Coming into this year we wanted to make sure that this was not just a one-off or random situation, but now truly part of our identity.
“To make it part of our identity we were going to have to nurture it every day and continue to push each other to make sure that when big moments came we were going to be ready and so far this season I think we’ve shown that we continue to build that into what we do. Tomorrow night will be a big test on that, but the group will be up for it.”