Oswaldo Alanis on MLS teams: “Now they are competing just like the Mexicans.” (Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Chivas is braced to meet a formidable Red Bulls side in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals Wednesday night.
Defender Oswaldo Alanís knows the Mexican team must neutralize a squad that is undefeated in the competition and from a league that has made great strides in reaching the same level as Liga MX.
In other words, there is great respect for MLS and the Red Bulls.
“Now they are competing just like the Mexicans,” Alanis said during a conference call Monday.
Alanis and his teammates will try to shut down the Red Bulls, 3-0-1 in the CCL knockout round in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“We have to continue with what we have been doing,” he said. “We are working on the defensive part of the game. If they do not score, we have already won a point. We have done very well at home in the Champions League, in addition to the home league.
“It will be a difficult match, but we are working to nullify their attack.”
That would be nullifying Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has been red-hot in CCL action with three goals and three assists in four matches and another three goals and one assist in part-time duty in MLS.
Alanis knew that Chivas won’t be in for a picnic at Estadio Akron in Guadalajara for the 10 p.m. ET confrontation. He has seen the improvement first hand against Seattle Sounders FC during a three-year span in the CCL, eliminating the MLS team with Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals in 2015 in and in this year’s quarterfinals.
“The difference at that time, which I think it was three-four years ago to now is very big,” he said. “I think the league is growing a lot and I think they have proved it. Now they are competing just like the Mexicans. In my opinion, it is a league that is very strong and that it’s increasingly generating more competition at a better level.”
When asked what lessons Chivas learned against Seattle, Alanis replied, “The level is high. They have very complete players that have been improving and playing better football. I think football in the US is growing a lot. We confirmed it in Seattle when we lost 1-0, which was something we did not have in our plans. This shows the improvement of MLS.”
While Chivas has acquitted itself well in the CCL knockout round, it has struggled in its domestic league.
The team has been rather ordinary in league competition as it is in 12th out of 18 teams with a 3-4-6 mark.
Mexican clubs have won all titles in the competition. MLS sides have reached the final but twice. This year, two teams representing the league, including Toronto FC, are striving to break up that monopoly.
Alanis stressed Chivas was not under any pressure.
“We are pleased with our current performance,” he said. “We are aware of it, and as you mention it, the MLS is growing a lot. There is no pressure, but it is true that Liga MX has been superior to the USA league at certain times. Right now, USA is growing a lot, so as a Mexican team want to show that the Liga MX is at a great level. We have very good players and that the competition is really strong.
“We do not see it as pressure, but as a challenge to reaffirm what Mexican football is and what an all-Mexican team represents.”
The Goats will find out how more difficult Wednesday night against a team that has been known for its pressure tactics at midfield.
“They are a team that does not like to let their rivals to play,” Alanis said. “This is how we are working. It will depend on them, but I don’t think they come to speculate because it not what has been working for them, I don’t think they will change their style.”
Chivas has played against similar-type teams in its league.
“There are teams in Mexican football that use this strategy,” Alanis said. “The best way is to start good to break that pressure. We should keep focused always to get out of that pressure that they normally put.”
Chivas head coach Matias Almeyda gave his team a scouting report on the Red Bulls.
“He told us about their strengths, how fast and unbalancing their players can be,” Alanis said. “We have to work hard for our offensive strategy. We know what New York Red Bulls are capable of and what we are going to face.”