Luis Robles was in a class of his own after his stellar performance in the CCL win. (Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said it best in three words: “Luis was fantastic.”
As in goalkeeper Luis Robles, who played the game of his career in the Red Bulls’ stunning 2-0 triumph over host Tijuana in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg Tuesday night.
The team captain produced 13 saves, many of them spectacular, to keep the Red Bulls in the game as striker Bradley Wright-Phillips scored on either side of halftime as a Major League Soccer team won for only the third time in CCL competition in Mexico.
“It wasn’t just the saves,” Marsch said at a postgame press conference. “It was the poise under pressure. I think he set the tone for our team to not panic, and even though we were under a lot of pressure to manage ourselves appropriately and yeah, Luis was fantastic.”
Marsch reminded the team to keep its composure prior to the game.
“One of the messages that Jesse told us before the game as he gave us the game plan was to keep composed,” Robles told reporters. “There were going to be moments when the crowd was going to be into it. It’s easy for us to lose our composure. But if we can find a way to stay disciplined, to stay calm, we’re going to find a way to see this out. And i think that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
Robles certainly set the tone, although he said he did not really get locked in until he collided newly acquired center back Tim Parker early in the match. He said it “kind of woke me up.”
“Obviously our locker room is very satisfied right now, but they also know … coming into this game it was going to be a hostile affair and we were going to go against a very good team in Club Tijuana that has a lot of quality. We also knew they want to start fast. So for us to get the goal right off the bat helped neutralize their threat and if anything it put them on the back foot, which helped us a lot.”
The veteran keeper stressed it wasn’t all about his performance, but the 10 teammates running around in front of him trying to protect their goal.
“When you look at the performance the guys gave, from Brad to all the way to the back, the way they’re sacrificing their body, doing everything they could to get in front of it,” Robles said. “With the pitch tonight it was very difficult because it held the ball up. If anything, it put us sometimes in very compromising positions.
“It’s one of those things where everyone has to do their job. Looking at the result and the performance, everyone did their job.”
The Red Bulls can finish the job in the second leg at Red Bull Arena next Tuesday at 8 p.m.