The New York Red Bulls can now turn their full attention to defending the Supporters’ Shield, assuming they can quickly put behind a devastating exit from the CONCACAF Champions League.
The reigning MLS regular-season champions head into Saturday’s home opener against the still-struggling San Jose Earthquakes wondering exactly what went wrong during the final 18 minutes of Tuesday’s match with Mexican side Santos Laguna.
Down 0-2 entering the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal, the Red Bulls erased the deficit within nine minutes and were seemingly on their way to forcing penalty kicks when Santos scored four times in a nine-minute span deep in the second half to dash those advancement dreams.
The stunning turn of events was out of character for a Red Bulls club that yielded an MLS-low 33 goals while compiling a league-record 71 points in 2018 en route to its third Supporters’ Shield in six seasons.
“It’s disappointing. To be so close to such a great feat and watch it slip through your fingers is tough,” 2018 MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long said. “As defenders, we have to take that on our shoulders. Our defenders are too good to let four goals go in.”
New York, which kicked off its 2019 campaign with a 1-1 draw at Columbus on March 2 while sitting out a majority of starters, may have the right opponent to bounce back against. Coming off a dismal 4-21-9 season, the Earthquakes have started new coach Matias Almeyda’s tenure by managing just one goal in back-to-back home defeats to Montreal and Minnesota United.
San Jose was done in by a poor second half in last Saturday’s 3-0 loss to much-improved Minnesota, conceding all three goals from the 49-minute mark on.
Though it hasn’t shown in the end results, the Earthquakes have displayed some signs of progress under the well-regarded Almeyda, who led Liga MX club Guadalajara to the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League title and defeated the Red Bulls in the semifinals. San Jose has outshot and out-possessed each of its first two opponents.
“We need to think our game, think our way through a game and understand what it takes to play 90 minutes mentally,” captain Chris Wondolowski said. “I think physically, we are fine. I think physically, we can do great things.”
Wondolowski enters this match still one away from tying Landon Donovan’s league record of 145 career goals. The 36-year-old accounted for San Jose’s lone score in last October’s 3-1 home loss to New York, the clubs’ lone 2018 matchup.
The Earthquakes are seeking their first victory at Red Bull Arena since Nov. 4, 2010. They’re 0-2-2 in their last four visits and have just one win (1-6-2) in their past nine road matches in the series.
New York, which got early goals from Omir Fernandez and Daniel Royer in Tuesday’s tough loss, went 16-1-2 including the playoffs at home last season and has won eight straight against MLS clubs at Red Bull Arena.
Royer has three goals in four matches across all competitions, but Bradley Wright-Phillips is still looking for his first this season. The two-time Golden Boot winner’s 105 goals since 2014 are tops in MLS during that period.