For a brief moment, Club Tijuana looked like they were in control. Following a 2-0 first leg loss at home, they scored early at Red Bull Arena and appeared to be pushing on for an equalizer.
Suddenly, the Xolos push all fell apart and, ultimately, their CONCACAF Champions League run ended with a whimper.
Club Tijuana was left to rue a number of missed chances and mental mistakes on Tuesday night as the Mexican side fell, 3-1, on the day to lose 5-1 on aggregate against the New York Red Bulls. It was a match that saw them score just 10 minutes in through Luis Mendoza before the Red Bulls onslaught began 18 minutes later.
On the day and throughout the series, Club Tijuana created chances but failed to finish. On the other side, Xolos looked weak on the counterattack as the Red Bulls attack repeatedly ran and ran to score a whopping five goals in two matches.
“This is a learning experience for us. We can’t take any MLS teams easy anymore,” Xolos centerback and veteran U.S. Men’s National Team defender Michael Orozco told SBI. “It’s more serious, this competition, but now we have to focus on our league and finish as high as possible and be ready for any upcoming games.”
“We were very anxious,” added Club Tijuana manager Diego Cocca. “We were trying to manage the side. I told them that if we passed the ball around, we’d find space. But the same thing happened. We scored the first goal, we should have been more at ease, but then we made the same mistakes.”
Cocca says he sees the defeat as a missed opportunity for the club. The CONCACAF Champions League is growing, he says, and losing out deprives the club of a meaningful chance to represent the region in the Club World Cup.
It also serves as another statement from MLS sides following a week full of them. The Red Bulls returned home and showed no fear when it came to pushing numbers forward against a Xolos side that has allowed just seven goals in 11 league games, tied for best in Liga MX.
“It’s very tight now,” Orozco said. “As you guys have seen with these results, it can go either way. We don’t take anything for granted.
“I play in Mexico now, and it’s always challenging to come to the U.S. to play or for MLS teams to go to Mexico. There’s different scenarios with altitude or cold and things like that. Soccer-wise, you have quality players in both leagues. Teams need to take advantage.”
Club Tijuana failed to take advantage, as did Tigres in their loss to Toronto FC. Now, Xolos look back towards the league and making a push to return to this competition when the time comes.
Under a first-year coach in Cocca, Club Tijuana is still working out the kinks as the team sits in seventh place through 11 matches. Now, the team looks forward to league play while looking back at lessons learned from the two-legged defeat.
“I think we just have to turn the page,” Orozco told SBI. “We have a game on Friday. Now we have to focus on the league. We have to make ourselves strong again. We defend the right way, but we need to put the ball away. We need to keep attacking and we need to be ready mentally for 90 minutes and not the first 20 or 30 minutes.”
“It’s a team that plays very well on the counter, very quick and very organized,” Cocca added of the Red Bulls. “In these types of competitions, you can’t make a lot of mistakes, otherwise you won’t make it through. We made a lot of mistakes, and we paid for it.”