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Kljestan Leads New York Red Bulls to Victory in CONCACAF Champions League Action

The New York Red Bulls, sitting atop Group F, met Alianza FC at Red Bull Arena in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. With a win, the Red Bulls would put themselves in prime position to be the lone team out of the group to make it to the next round, but the visiting Salvadorans made hard work of the job for the home side. Despite their struggles, though, the Red Bulls eventually found a late winner through Sacha Kljestan, as the team puts one foot in the door to the knockout rounds of the SCCL.

The Red Bulls were without captain Dax McCarty, defender Ronald Zubar, and forward Omer Damari through injury, but injury concerns for goalkeeper Luis Robles were dispelled as he made the start. Jesse Marsch’s lineup featured heavy rotation, as six changes were made from the team that drew 2-2 with DC United on Sunday. First team players Sal Zizzo, Mike Grella, and Alex Muyl entered the lineup while standouts from New York Red Bulls II Aaron Long, Justin Bilyeu, and Tyler Adams also joined the starters.

New York was off to a quick start, getting attempts at goal early on. Gonzalo Verón was often the man with the opportunity early on, having a shot cleared seven minutes on and then having a header off a corner saved two minutes later. Attempts came for Felipe and Grella later on in the first half as the Red Bulls remained increasingly dominant in possession. The Red Bulls could get as far as goal, but Alianza goalkeeper Óscar Arroyo made save after save, making it seem impossible for the home team to get the go-ahead goal. The half ended scoreless, with Marsch telling Red Bulls Radio, “we haven’t been very good.”

The second half saw further struggles from the Red Bulls, as getting closer to goal was proving to be increasingly difficult. Alianza, though, were enjoying some attacking play of their own, forcing Robles into making several saves of his own. With New York desperate for a goal, the team’s leading assister, Kljestan, came on with 28 minutes left on the clock. Possession rotated between the two teams as both created opportunities, but nothing could separate the two sides. But as has become custom this season for the Red Bulls, Kljestan came up big.

On the 90 minute mark, Verón found the ball on the far end of the penalty area. Running out of space, he sent the ball back diagonally to Kljestan, who was standing near the penalty spot. The American hit the ball upon contact with his left foot with such ease, and soon it glided past Arroyo for the late winner. With just stoppage time on the clock, Alianza could not fight back, and the three points went to New York.

With seven points, the Red Bulls still top Group F; Alianza sit in second with two points, while Antigua GFC, with two games still left to play, are bottom with one point. With as little as a draw in their final match of the group stage, the Red Bulls can cement their spot in the quarterfinals.

New York next heads to Toronto in MLS action on Sunday, September 18, before their final match in Group F of the SCCL at Antigua GFC on Tuesday, September 27.

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Pardeep is the New York Red Bulls Beat Writer for while also covering other soccer teams and events.
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