Bradley Wright-Phillips scored the Red Bulls lone goal vs. Vancouver. (Adam Hunter/USA Today Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Front Row Soccer Editor
HARRISON, New Jersey – Is the glass half empty or half full for the Red Bulls?
On one hand, they managed to tie their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg with the 10-man Vancouver Whitecaps at 1-1 at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night.
On the other hand, they could not take advantage of their home-field advantage and pad their lead in the knockout round series heading into the March 2 second leg in Vancouver.
“We need to score up there,” said striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, whose first CCL goal gave the Red Bulls a lifeline. “They’re very tough to play against. It’s going to be hard, especially at their place. It’s going to be a toss-up we’re going to get through.”
The hosts played with a man advantage for the final 20 minutes after Vancouver’s Cristian Techera was red-carded for kicking defender Sal Zizzo in the groin in the 70th minute.
“I knew this was setup to be a dangerous game for us because Vancouver likes to sit back, they like to defend,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “It’s easier to do those things earlier in the season because teams aren’t quite sharp, because we’re not quite sharp enough, we’re not able to capitalize and take advantage of certain situations.”
Vancouver grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute. Captain Kendall Waston floated in a corner kick that Kekuta Manneh headed off the body of Red Bulls defender Justin Bilyeu and past goalkeeper Luis Robles and into the left side of the net. It was Manneh’s first SCCL career goal.
Two minutes into the second half the Red Bulls botched a golden opportunity to equalize as defender Christian Dean tripped Daniel Royer in the penalty area on Sacha Kljestan’s corner kick.
Kljestan, who scored twice during the group stage last year, took the ensuing spot kick, but goalkeeper David Ousted, diving the wrong way, made a kick save. Wright-Phillips booted the rebound over the net.
“I’m not lacking in confidence right now,” said Kljestan, who converted six of eight penalty kicks in the regular season the past two years. “I’m just lacking in execution tonight.”
New York, which enjoyed possession for long stretches in the second half, finally knotted things up in the 62nd minute. Overlapping on the right side, Zizzo sent a cross that hit Gonzalo Veron in the middle of the box. Wright-Phillips quickly gained possession and drilled a shot into the top right side of the goal for a 1-1 tie.
“It was lucky that it just bounced to me,” BWP said. “I thought missed. I don’t know if you saw on the thing. It was like a delayed reaction because those balls are different. I kind of hit it. It just flew off my foot. I really didn’t do too much. It just fell to me.”
The Red Bulls realized they have their work cut out for themselves next week because they need to score goals or wait until the summer for the 2017/18 CCL to begin.
“It sets up for a very interesting second leg,” Marsch said. “Certainly we’re going to go there and try to put the game on our terms like we always do and go after them.”
Whitecaps captain and defender Kendall Waston called the draw “a good result for us,” but he wanted more.
“It wasn’t the result that we expected,” he said. “We wanted to go to Vancouver with a clean sheet but in our stadium, with our fans, I think we can win this match and hopefully we can qualify for the semifinals.”
The Red Bulls hope to have something to say about that.