New York Red Bulls suffer familiar fate in CCL exit to Chivas Guadalajara
Chivas Guadalajara withstood a withering 90 minutes of near constant pressure from the New York Red Bulls to secure a 0-0 tie in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal, which was good enough for a 1-0 aggregate triumph.
Here are three thoughts from yet another CCL disappointment for a Major League Soccer side.
1. Same old story for Red Bulls
The Red Bulls have a history of dominating postseason matches at home but not finding the critical goal needed to make a breakthrough. It's a big reason why New York has yet to secure an MLS Cup despite winning a pair of Supporters' Shields. The CCL had seen New York buck that history to a degree as home wins over Honduran side Olimpia and Tijuana of Liga MX resulted in the Red Bulls reaching the CCL semis. Yet Tuesday's match was the latest installment of a recurring nightmare.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, New York manager Jesse Marsch vowed his side would be the aggressor, and it did all it could to back up his promise. The Red Bulls played with a direct approach at a frenetic pace, perhaps a bit too chaotic as New York connected just 57 percent of its passes for the game.
In the first half, the tactic had the effect of putting Guadalajara under considerable pressure, as New York created plenty of chances and Chivas failed to register a single shot on goal. In the opening 20 minutes the Red Bulls took six shots and earned five corners. But Chivas goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota was equal to the task, pushing Florian Valot's 10th-minute header over the bar. Daniel Royer fired a low pass across the face of goal in the 18th minute but just missed connecting with Bradley Wright-Phillips at the far post.
The pace finally slowed down after about 35 minutes but still finished with New York well on top. Marsch's team outshot Chivas 12-0 in the first half, with five of those attempts on target.
The end of the half came at an opportune time for Chivas and seemed to take the sting out of the Red Bulls. The second half saw the visitors gain more frequent and longer spells of possession. Perhaps sensing that the momentum was shifting, Alejandro "Kaku" Romero Gamarra was brought on for Royer in the 57th minute, and Derrick Etienne nearly created something out of nothing when he picked the pocket of Edwin Hernandez, but his centering feed was cleared.
Despite spending plenty of time in the Chivas half, New York was unable to create much of anything in the way of clear opportunities thereafter, except for a late header from Aaron Long that was saved by Cota. Much of this was due to the resolute and steady play of the Chivas defense, which got superb performances from Oswaldo Alanis and Carlos Salcido.
All told, there wasn't much separating the two sides, but Chivas simply made enough plays in each penalty area to come out on top. It's a feeling the Red Bulls know all too well.
2. Kaku needed to start
The Red Bulls biggest offseason acquisition was Young Designated Player Kaku. Marsch has opted to bring the Argentine along slowly, using him as a substitute in CCL games, but with the clear need for goals, and with Alex Muyl suspended, it was thought that the Red Bulls' manager might have Kaku on from the start. Not only did Marsch opt for Derrick Etienne in Muyl's spot, but he started Florian Valot in the attacking midfield role one might expect Kaku to occupy.
Marsch has spoken of how Kaku has been adapting to the Red Bulls' style, and given Valot's and Etienne's more-extensive experience in the New York manager's system, it's clear he went with familiarity.
Given the number of chances the Red Bulls created in the first half, one could argue that Marsch's tactic was vindicated. But looked at another way, it was the kind of battering-ram approach that was going to require something spectacular to break through Chivas' defense. Kaku is the player on the Red Bulls' roster who is most able create something out of nothing and starting him would have maximized New York's odds of finding a goal and at least pushing the game into extra time.
As it turned out, star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips was largely held in check. He had one point-blank chance in the eighth minute that was stopped by Cota, but according to ESPN Stats & Information, he had only four other touches in the Chivas penalty area the rest of the night, resulting in only one more attempt at goal in the 64th minute that was easily saved. Chivas basically dared someone else on the Red Bulls to beat them, and no one could.
3. Chivas' defense does enough
For whatever criticisms one might level at the Red Bulls, the defensive effort of Guadalajara has to be recognized. The loss of defender Jair Pereira to suspension was expected to be a huge loss for Chivas. Granted, his replacement Salcido is hugely experienced, having made over 400 appearances at club level and another 124 for Mexico. But Pereira remains Chivas' best header of the ball, and it there was concern that New York would exploit this weakness, especially on set pieces.
The Red Bulls certainly did their best to test Guadalajara in this area, forcing six first-half corners and a slew of set pieces in the attacking third. But this was a night where Chivas did just enough in all defensive areas. Whenever a Red Bulls attacker beat his man to get a glimmer of daylight, another defender was there to break up the play. And the staggering number of clearances, 54 according to ESPN Stats & Info, speaks to the steady play of the Chivas defense.
As for Cota, he was credited with nine saves. Few of those could be classified as difficult, but he came through when needed, including a sharp reaction save in stoppage time from Aaron Long's header. Chivas certainly didn't come to Red Bull Arena to play pretty, but it amounted to a superb team effort that now sees them through to the final.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.