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New York Red Bulls Qualify for CONCACAF Champions League Knockout Stage

(Photo by Catalina Fragoso – Double G Media)

(Photo by Catalina Fragoso – Double G Media)


The New York Red Bulls voyaged to Guatemala for their final match of the CONCACAF Champions League group stage. After two wins and a draw on the board, New York needed only a draw to book a spot in the next round of the tournament. They did just that, and on the back of qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs, had more to celebrate with more CCL action in the new year.

Knowing that his team needed a result to go through, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch brought a strong squad to Guatemala. Marsch rotated out eight of his starters from the team’s win against the Montréal Impact, blending benchwarmers, first team regulars, and New York Red Bulls II stars. Sal Zizzo, Sean Davis, Mike Grella, and Gonzalo Verón, often on the team sheet for MLS matches, came in for the task against Antigua GFC, while Justin Bilyeu, Aaron Long, and Aaron Long filled up spots in the lineup. A familiar last name joined the group of eleven, but it was Shaun Wright-Phillips, brother of MLS Golden Boot leader Bradley.

From the very moment the teams stepped onto the pitch, the conditions of the field at Estadio Pensativo were clearly poor. Large white patches dotted the field, as the stadium lights reflected off of the water standing on the pitch. The field conditions made ball movement incredibly slow, and speed of play suffered greatly.

Despite that, in the opening moments, it seemed as if the Red Bulls were off to a winning start. Grella found the ball in Antigua’s penalty area, and almost managed an assist five minutes into the match. Yet, as Grella played the ball close to the endline, he actually sent the ball out of bounds, and the assistant referee appropriately called it out.

The remainder of the first half saw few tests for either goalkeeper, but the match proved to be chippy. In the 32nd minute, Bilyeu and Antigua’s José Carlos Castillo were booked after an angry exchange. Bilyeu was involved in another incident, this time involving a collision of heads. After a checkup, he was taken out of the match and was replaced by Kemar Lawrence just minutes before halftime.

The second half saw more opportunities for both teams. The likes of Verón and Felipe took shots at goal, but nothing could get past the Antigua defense. Luis Robles was active in the first half, coming up with crucial saves that kept his team in the game, including a save with his right hand six minutes into the second half.

Despite the differences in play between the first and second half, the physical battles of the first half remained. In the 78th minute, substitute Alex Muyl was dealt an elbow to the face, and fell to the ground with blood covering his face. He received treatment, though, and was able to continue through the end of the match.

As the match winded down, New York searched for a winner, despite a draw doing the job in sending the team to the next round. In came star talisman Bradley Wright-Phillips, and he almost stole the lead in the dying minutes of the match. In stoppage time, he made a deep run into the Antigua penalty area and was stopped by the defense. The match ended scoreless, and the New York Red Bulls’ quarterfinal spot was assured.

New York will resume in the CONCACAF Champions League come February, when the knockout rounds begin, against an opponent that has yet to be determined. They now focus primarily on MLS action for the remainder of the calendar year, next facing the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, October 1.

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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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