A slow start with missed chances eventually lead to goals in each half for the New York Red Bulls as the team won its first game of the year against Atlético Pantoja, 2-0, in the first leg of it’s Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League series on Wednesday.
The game was played in the Dominican Republic at the Estadio Olimpico Felix Sanchez in Santo Domingo, Pantoja’s home venue.
It didn’t come easy for the Bulls despite out-shooting Los Guerreros, known in English as The Warriors, 12 to 4 over the 90 minutes. The away team looked sloppy in the first stages of the game. In one instance, a blocked shot off of Pantoja keeper Odalis Báez rolled in front of an empty net but no New York players could kick it in allowing the Warriors to siege the box and clear it away.
In an earlier article for Red Bulls Nation overviewing Pantoja as a team, I made note that both teams are heavily defensive and got to this tournament because of it. That was on display tonight. New York’s defense kept the Dominican side at bay with only a few deep, threatening chances reaching either the feet of a RBNY defender or the hands of a waiting Luis Robles. At the same time, The Warrior’s defense confused and stifled the attacking Bulls to start the game.
But in the game of endurance, the type of defense that gets results in Primera División de Republica Dominicana isn’t the same kind that gets results in Major League Soccer.
A sidekick off a cross by Bradley Wright-Phillips deflected off the hands of a blocking Báez and off the chest of a nearby Pantoja defender, Walnes Innocent, and into the net for an own goal in the 39th minute.
From then on and into the second half, the MLS side maintained a majority of control but still struggled to finish on multiple attempts to increase its lead until a Daniel Royer shot came in the 67th minute. The first goal from a Red Bulls player in 2019 came off a cross from Kaku on the right side who found an open Royer in the box all by himself, the latter of which steadied the bouncing ball before finishing with a hard strike past Báez.
In addition to making its CONCACAF Champions League debut, Los Guerreros was also looking to make history for the Domican Republic and become the first team from the country to score in the CCL. Two shots from midfielder Jean Carlos López hit off the goal in the second half and would be some of the team’s best chances of the night, but nothing came of it.
New York returns home next week to face Atlético Pantoja in the second leg of their Round of 16 series. With a two away goal lead, the Red Bulls need an outright win, draw, or loss by a 1-0 scoreline to move on. The series winner will go on to face the winner of the Santos Laguna (Liga MX) and C.D. Marathón (Honduras) series, with the Mexican side winning its first leg, 6-2, on the road Wednesday night.