New York played host to Mexico’s Tigres UANL in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, once again playing in their rival’s stadium in New Jersey. Coming off of a loss in Toronto, City looked to rebound from a bumpy start to the MLS season.
Following two tight losses in domestic play, coach Ronny Deila and City were in dire need of a positive result ahead of the home opener scheduled for the following weekend.
That positive result would have to wait, and given complications with leagues and tournaments following Wednesday’s games the wait will be a long one.
The second stage of the CCL gave American and Mexican fans matchups that were long awaited, as all three U.S. teams out of the four remaining MLS clubs faced off against opponents from Liga MX.
Atlanta United was set to face off against Mexican giants Club America, while 2019 Supporters Shield winners LAFC were slated to take on Cruz Azul. Across the northern border, the Montreal Impact hosted CD Olimpia of Honduras.
Fans poured into Red Bull Arena with Tigres fans high in number and spirit. The stands were effectively split 50/50 between New York and Tigres fans, creating an exciting dynamic that would last the full 90 minutes.
It wasn’t long before the crowd was already on the edge of their seats, as City and Tigres traded quick attacking moves. In the first play of the game Tigres tested the New York defense, sneaking in and driving a shot wide.
City returned the favor the next minute with a free kick falling to Alexander Callens inside the box, but sent over the bar by the Peruvian.
Through the early minutes, goalkeeping was in form on both ends of the pitch, though the shots on goal began to add up for New York. Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman, whose stoppage time winner sent Tigres through to the quarterfinals, stood firm in net, stopping two scorching shots by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
In the 25th minute came the biggest New York opportunity. A good challenge by Ronald Mattarita won the ball in the midfield. After some quick build-up play, the ball fell to captain Alex Ring, who sent it into the path of Heber. Guzman once again stood strong, well positioned to stop the Brazillian’s shot from six yards out.
The match stayed at a deadlock until the half and beyond, with both clubs trading chances. In the second half, Tigres were much more intent on controlling the game, slowing down the pace and holding possession.
In the dying minutes of regulation, two chances came within inches of putting the Mexican side ahead. Sean Johnson kept the match tied as he tipped a high shot over the bar before watching a shot sail overhead off a cross.
The chances proved overwhelming for City. In the two minutes of stoppage time, a Tigres chance finally found its way into the net. A shot from outside the box from André-Pierre Gignac was saved by Johnson but spilled in front of the goal.
The New York defense had no time to react as Eduardo Vargas cleaned up the rebound and gave Tigres the winner.
The result became the third consecutive 1-0 defeat faced by New York in the 2020 season, following losses away at Columbus and Toronto to open the MLS season. Following a win against AD San Carlos, the New York club suffered three shutout losses for the first time in club history.
“It’s very frustrating for both me and the players,” said Deila. “We’re getting so many chances and can’t get a result, but that’s football. In the end it’s about our skills and we have to improve. It’s nice that we have another game [against Tigres], I want to see everybody stick together as a group.”
Unfortunately for NYCFC, the three losses would carry into an unexpected hiatus brought on by the outbreak of coronavirus. With both the MLS season and CCL tournament suspending play indefinitely, soccer in the US, Mexico, and worldwide has ground to a standstill.
The sudden pause in play came ahead of LAFC’s clash against Cruz Azul, but just like NYCFC, Atlanta United and the Montreal Impact entered the break coming off of CCL losses. CD Olimpia’s 2-1 win in Canada and Club America’s 3-0 thrashing of Atlanta left three MLS clubs impatiently awaiting a chance at redemption.
When play resumes across the world, City has to find a way to rebound both domestically and in the return leg in Mexico. In the eventual rematch in Nuevo Leon, New York is back on the road, this time in an environment at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level.
It will take a strong performance to take down Tigres.