Luis Robles didn’t let anything past him in a 2-0 shutout of Tijuana. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)
TIJUANA — The Red Bulls accomplished something that many soccer observers felt was impossible Tuesday night.
Not only did they score twice in a CONCACAF Champions League confrontation in Mexico, but they blanked the host side as well in a 2-0 first-leg win over Tijuana.
Luis Robles had a game for the ages Tuesday night, the type of game that ages opposing players and coaches.
In one of the greatest performances by a Red Bulls goalkeeper in the team’s 23-year history, if not the greatest, Robles saved his teammates again and again — he made 13 saves — as they survived an onslaught by the hosts Estadio Caliente.
On the other side of the field, Bradley Wright-Phillips struck twice to put the bow on a stunning triumph as New York returns to Red Bull Arena for the March 12 second leg with a two-goal advantage.
“When we came down here, we knew it was going to take a big effort,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “We knew it was going to take a little luck. So, we had to hang on. We needed our goalkeeper to come up with some big saves. We needed our defenders to empty the tank and give everything they had.
“It took a little bit of luck, but in the end it’s a wonderful result for us, but it’s only halftime. This is far from over and we know that going back to Red Bull Arena we are going to have a very tough match again.”
As happy as Marsch was, Tijuana coach Diego Cocca was far from it.
“Look, the factors, I’m only going to name three,” he said. “First the rival goalkeeper, later the linesman who didn’t give us the goal that was [called offside], and also the lack of efficiency from our team.”
Cocca was referring to a situation in the 64th minute when Ignacio Rivero put home a rebound past Robles to equalize but the goal was nullified by an offside call.
Three minutes later, BWP tallied his second goal.
Wright-Phillips lifted the Red Bulls into the lead in the ninth minute behind some nifty passing. Daniel Royer, on the left flank, sent the ball to Alex Muyl on the right side of the penalty area. The New York native then tapped a quick feed to BWP, who beat goalkeeper Gibran Lajud four yards out on the left side. It was the English striker’s 102nd goal in a Red Bulls uniform.
The rest of the opening half was all Tijuana and just about all Robles.
The Red Bulls keeper was nothing short of magnificent, producing seven saves to keep the hosts off the scoreboard.
Among Robles’ most memorable first-half stops were him parrying away Damian Perez’s shot in the 25th minute, robbing Rivero’s backward head flick a minute later and denying Pablo Aguilar’s headed in the 31st minute.
Marsch was forced to make a late substitution in the half after midfielder Marc Rzatkowski suffered a right leg injury. Florian Valot came on for him in the 42nd minute.
In the second half, Robles picked up where he left off as he again producing several impressive saves He stopped Luis Mendoza’s header in the 53rd minute before parrying a shot away from the same play in the 56th minute, denying Miller Bolanos in the 85th minute and grabbing a ricochet of a Luis Chavez shot on the goal line in the 92nd minute.
Wright-Phillips tallied a vital insurance score in the 67th minute, taking a pass from Valot and scoring in traffic from the top of the penalty area for a 2-0 bulge.
Hicksville, N.Y. native Tim Parker made his debut as a Red Bull, starting the game at center back. He played the full 90 minutes alongside Aaron Long.