By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — If he had a time machine, Chris Armas might want to go back and make a substitution earlier in the Red Bulls’ 3-0 second-leg victory over Atletico Pantoja Wednesday night.
With Michael Amir Murillo entering the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 match carrying a yellow card, the Red Bulls head coach considered taking out his right back at halftime to save him for the next series.
He didn’t and the Red Bulls, Murillo and Armas paid the price in the 66th minute when the Panamanian international was awarded his second yellow card of the series due to a foul.
Translated: Murillo will miss the first leg of the quarterfinals against Santos Laguna (Mexico) here this Tuesday.
“That was a factor coming into tonight,” Armas said after the Red Bulls secured a 5-0 series victory over the Dominican Republic squad. “We tried to prepare our players, epsecially not just Amir, but other guys not to pick up other yellow cards needlessly. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to get one and that might have been the case there. It’s a reminder for other players moving forward if we keep going on in this tournament. It’s tough for us, it’s tough for Amir. He wants to play in all games, in big games especially.
“Part of the plan was to get him off early in the second half. Maybe I could have made that move at halftime. The plan was to get him off for that reason. So we move on. It’s nothing to think about. We have other guys who will step in.”
Murillo wished he could have changed the foul and card incident.
“I would have changed it, but I felt as though I got it [the ball] cleanly,” he said. “At halftime Chris did speak to me about taking me out early but he said he trusted me to go out there to start the half.”
The right back was assessed his second yellow of the series when he fouled Nicolás Rebollo in the 49th minute. His first yellow was incurred in the 2-0 win in the Dominican Republic.
“Obviously, I’m happy with the win, but I’m a little bit upset about the yellow card because I didn’t feel like it was a foul,” he said. “But we have a good group. We have a lot of depth on this team, and I’m confident in the group to be able to pull it out, but I wish I was out there.”
Against Atletico Pantoja, the Red Bulls used the same Starting XI. That streak will be broken Tuesday.
“It’s really frustrating because we talked all week about being careful with yellows, especially Amir,” midfielder Sean Davis said. “Even at that play when you look at it from afar, you’re not sure that warrants a yellow. You have to be careful. He had to learn his lesson that hard and we all take a lesson from this.”
Murillo brings several things to the Red Bulls table. Besides being a solid defender, he overlaps well and frequently becomes part of the attack. So, he will be missed.
“It’s tough losing a playing like Amir, especially down the right where he is so dangerous going forward,” Davis said. “He brings something different to the team. He is a competitor and he’s great on both sides of the ball. We’re going to miss him.”
The suspension could force Armas to change plans he had for the Major League Soccer season-opener at Columbus Crew SC Saturday. He was considering resting his right back for the Santos match. Now, Murillo might play.
“Obviously, I’m going to prepare myself to be ready for that match,” he said. “I would like to play the first leg against Santos.”
Armas indicated that Kyle Duncan, who replaced Murillo in the 59th minute, would be considered as a possible replacement for Murillo.
“He’ll be a consideration for sure,” he said. “We have a few options and a few different ways we can play to fill that void. We like Kyle. It hurt us last year when he got hurt because he was off to a great start. He worked hard to get back. He had a great preseason. He has different qualities. He can defend 1 v 1, he has an engine to get up and down. He’s good in the air. He tactically understands. It was great and part of the plan to see him get some minutes tonight as we approach Tuesday and even on the weekend. He’s fearless and he’s a breath of fresh air when he’s out there. I think we’ll be relying on him the next few games.”
Added Davis: “It’s a great chance for Kyle Duncan, who you guys were able to see a little bit today. He was great last year before he got injured. So, we know how good of a player he is. He’s a guy whose hungry and wants to prove himself. He’s going to get a big chance.”
During a post-game huddle on the field, Armas addressed the team and some concerns he had. One of them was yellow cards.
“A reminder about yellow cards because that wasn’t the only one that could have been given,” he said. “It’s other guys. It’s reminder that you have to have discipline at all moments.”
That talk came just a little too late for Murillo.