Red Bulls Vision Pays Off in Unlikely Champions League Victory

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HARRISON, NEW JERSEY- APRIL 24: Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates with supporters after scoring his first goal of the night during the New York Red Bulls Vs Orlando City MLS regular season match at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey on April 24, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Tijuana, Mexico (March 6, 2018) – The New York Red Bulls Technical Staff and players have talked a lot about the vision they share for the team. That vision came together once more at Estadio Caliente in Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League victory.

Since Thierry Henry called it a career and effectively ended an era of Red Bulls football, New York has undergone a massive facelift. Only three players remain from the Henry era. Two of them figured in Tuesday’s match in a big way – striker Bradley Wright-Phillips and goalkeeper Luis Robles. Since that transition, the Red Bulls have shifted away from the marquee player model to one that requires patience, daring, and more patience.

The model once again paid dividends in Tijuana.

Red Bulls Vision On Display in Tijuana

Pundits and fans alike have criticized New York for their lack of star power. As clubs around them add well-known names, the Red Bulls have quietly been going about their business. They’ve developed world-class talent from wild, woolly New Jersey. They’ve recruited young talent from elsewhere and maximized the development of those players through their USL side. The results are sometimes not as exceptional. Last season was a great example of growing pains.

However, seven of the fourteen players used by head coach Jesse Marsch were developed within the organization. Three starters were homegrown players – Sean Davis, Tyler Adams, Alex Muyl. That core was capped off by veteran leadership from striker Bradley Wright-Phillips and goalkeeper Luis Robles. Wright-Phillips netted a brace. His second goal was assisted by Florian Valot, who signed an MLS contract with the senior club after spending last season honing his craft with RBNY II. Robles, the MLS’ reigning ironman, and newly appointed Red Bulls captain led not only in the locker room but also on the field. Video circulated of a pre-battle speech made by the veteran keeper before Tuesday’s match. Then, Robles went on to save everything that came his way, putting on a signature performance worthy of his position of leadership.

On the pitch, the Marsch designed a gameplan that maximized his team’s chances to get a win. Instead of using a possession-based attack, the Red Bulls backline used the long ball and pressed hard. The ensuing chaos caused Club Tijuana significant difficulty in the middle of the field. Typically MLS clubs have tried to play ‘their game’ vs. Liga MX sides. The results have been questionable. Instead, the Red Bulls set out to disrupt Xolos’ game at every turn. Centerbacks Tim Parker and Aaron Long (another USL product) and Robles handled everything else.

The result was apparent. New York is only the third club to win in Mexico as part of this competition. Additionally, the Red Bulls did what many clubs cannot do. They were outshot 30 to 11, and not only won the match, but also kept a clean sheet. They were out-possessed by design, and although they played defensive football, they never seemed to park the bus, pressing the attack every opportunity they could. The victory changes the nature of the series entirely. With the club returning home to largely winter weather, one has to wonder if they can close this out and move on to the CCL semis. With a clear vision and two road goals in their back pocket, the possibility got that much greater.

The Red Bulls open their MLS schedule on Saturday, March 10th, at 7 pm at Red Bull Arena. New York continues their Champions League match on Tuesday, March 13th at 8 pm, when they face Club Tijuana at home in the return leg of this CCL Quarterfinals matchup.

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