New York City FC defender Anton Tinnerholm (3) kicks the ball past Tigres midfielder Javier Aquino (20) in the first half. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Orlando might be considered the family entertainment capital of the world, but New York City FC probably won’t entertain any thoughts of that nature on what has transpired recently.
For the second time in 25 days, NYCFC was eliminated from a playoff competition in that central Florida city.
On Nov. 21, City lost a wild shootout to Orlando City SC in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
On Tuesday night, the club was shown the door by UANL Tigres, which recorded 4-0 a victory in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals at Exploria Stadium. The Mexican giants captured the first leg at Red Bull Arena March 11, 1-0, and won the series, 5-0.
If you want to get technical, City has been eliminated in three competitions there, having been shown the door in the MLS is Back Tournament to eventual champion Portland Timbers at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Aug. 1.
Midfielder Luis Quiñones was the magician in the middle for the winners as he set up the opening three goals.
“I have to give the players credit in that they fight to the end,” NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said in a post-game video press conference. “But today we were not good enough and we deserved to lose in the end.”
NYCFC entered the match with one foot tied behind its back because it was without two key performers – goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who was ruled out of the match because he was near one of his teammates who tested positive for COVID-19, and captain and midfielder Alex Ring, who was sidelined due to a scheduled offseason operation.
In Johnson’s place was Luis Barraza, a 2019 MLS SuperDraft choice who was untested at the professional level. On the other side of the pitch was keeper Nahuel Guzman, who had made more than 300 appearances for Tigres.
That didn’t include striker Heber, who is out for the season with a knee injury, midfielder James Sands, who is sidelined with a broken arm, and midfielder Alexandru Mitrita, who has been loaned to a Saudi Arabian club.
The visiting side dominated possession in the opening half, but could not solve a defense that seemingly had seven players pack the penalty area to block many NYCFC shots or passes.
The ploy worked.
Tigres then scored against the run of play as Frenchman Andre-Pierre Gignac headed home Quiñones’ right-wing cross on the half hour. It was Gignac’s 11th CCL and 140th in his Tigres career.
“We did okay in first half,” Deila said. “We had good control of the ball a lot as well. It was even the first half but they showed the real quality in that goal. The first goal was really good cross and the finish was top top class.”
Four minutes into the second half, Quiñones set up Leonardo Fernandez on a nifty goal to double lead.
Quiñones, who made life miserable for NYCFC left back Ronald Matarrita on the right flank, sent in another cross from that side for another header goal. This one was from Rafael Carioca from eight yards in the 64th minute, essentially making any hopes for an NYCFC comeback a longshot.
“If you do simple mistakes against teams like this, you get punished,” Deila said. “When we did something bad on the ball or didn’t defend the way we wanted to be, we get punished hard and then its a hard second half.”
Gigac turned playmaker in the 85th minute as he set up Javier Aquino from 14 yards to close out the scoring.
“They were much more creative on the last third of the pitch,” Deila said. “We didn’t create anything. We lost the ball too much. We didn’t play quick enough to open them up and create our own chances.”