Jesse Marsch (during the rainy CCL Round of 16 second leg): “We have to make sure we keep things compact, that we play our version of the game.” (Photo by Matthew Levine)
By Michael Lewis
Tijuana may be considered among the weaker of the four remaining Mexican sides in the CONCACAF Champions League by some observers and might not necessarily have the gravitas of the likes of Club America, Tigres and Guadalajara.
Still, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch is quite wary of his team’s foes before they tussle in the first leg of the quarterfinals in Tijuana Tuesday night.
“We will have to play a very disciplined and very smart match that we make sure don’t let the game get wide open,” he said, “that we don’t let their talented players get into open spaces, that we keep the game in the version we want, not the way they want; the way they want would be to spread the field all over the place, lots of consecutive passes, pulling us apart, hitting us in different areas.
“We have to make sure we keep things compact, that we play our version of the game. It’ll be fun. We have prepared a lot, mapped out what we think the game will look like to our team. Then it’s a matter of going down there and executing at a very, very high level.”
If the hosts have their way, it could be a long night for the Red Bulls and their defense.
Center back Aaron Long has seen video of Tijuana, so he knows what to expect and what to avoid.
“They have a lot of pace,” he said. “They like to counter. I don’t think there’s too much structure of movement or style of play. They just move freely around. Individually, do whatever they want. They just imbalance a lot of teams. We just got to stay organized and structured in the back and drop when we need to so we don’t get countered.”
Tijuana, which already has a dozen games (10 domestic, two CCL) under its belt, is in sixth place in Liga MX with a 4-2-4 record and 16 points. Marsch noted that the team drew against Club America, another CCL quarterfinalist, recently.
“It’s a talented team. It’s a team that’s good on the ball,” Marsch said. “It’s a team that will spread you and hit you form different spots. They are good on the counter, they are clever and sharper around the goal. When you play Mexican teams, you know you will play against some talented players and players who are really good around the ball. So it will test us in big ways.”
Red Bulls forward Amando Moreno played with Xolos from 2014-17, so not surprisingly, Marsch has picked his brain about the Red Bulls’ foes.
“They have a new coach and some new players, so it’s a little bit different,” Marsch said. “We used him to talk about everything from the turf, what the stadium is like, to what their players are like, and how they play. He was very helpful. We hope that will give us a little bit of an advantage.”
With the Red Bulls’ MLS season opener set against the Portland Timbers at Red Bull Arena, Marsch has to look ahead as well. He hasn’t figured out who will sit yet, but he expected to use a rotation.
Remember, the Red Bulls will host the CCL second leg Tuesday, March 13.
“Some of it will be how we come out in the game from a score perspective, from a health perspective, from physical perspective,” Marsch said. “Early in the year it will be good for more guys to get an opportunity. Teams in the league aren’t quite that sharp yet. It’s an opportunity to give different guys a shot. I think in the next three games we’ll see some rotation. It’s just a matter of managing it the right way.”