New York Red Bulls 1, Alianza FC 0 | CONCACAF Champions League Recap
For 89 minutes, it appeared the New York Red Bulls would limp to a scoreless draw in CONCACAF Champions League Group F play.
But Sacha Kljestan came off the bench in the second half and stepped up when his team needed him most, scoring the winning goal in the 90th minute to give the Red Bulls the 1-0 win over El Salvador's Alianza FC on Thursday at Red Bull Arena.
It appeared Gonzalo Veron had scored the opener off a corner kick in the 8th minute, but Alianza goalkeeper Oscar Arroyo made a terrific save to keep the Red Bulls off the board early.
Arroyo came up big time and again in the first half, making several stops on New York to keep the game scoreless going into the break.
Former El Salvador international Rodolfo Zelaya, Alianza's main attacking player, had an appeal for a penalty denied in the 50th minute, as Tyler Adams' clean tackle led to a handball by Sean Davis, although replays seemed to indicate it was an unintentional handling of the ball in the box.
Zelaya had a good diving header going against the grain in the 72nd minute, but Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles was up to the task, saving the shot as the score remained level. Robles made another key save six minutes later, as Alianza continued to knock on the door. A minute later, Arroyo blocked yet another Veron effort on the other end.
But Kljestan made the difference in the end, as he coolly swept in Veron's cross just as the game was wrapping up, giving the Red Bulls three crucial points in their quest to win the group.
- THIS CLOSE TO ADVANCING: With the win, the Red Bulls only need a point in their final group stage game, in two weeks against Guatemala's Antigua, to guarantee first place in Group F and advancement to the knockout stage. Antigua have two games left to play to the Red Bulls' one, so if they win their final two games, they could overtake the Red Bulls depending on tiebreakers. But again, a draw is all the Red Bulls need to wrap up the group and move on to the quarterfinals for the first time in club history.
- KLJESTAN'S INFLUENCE: Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch played a lineup that mixed regular starters with reserves, but both Kljestan and leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips started the game on the bench. When Justin Bilyeu was injured, Kemar Lawrence needed to replace him in defense with New York's final sub, and BWP didn't get a chance to play in the game. In the end, it didn't matter, as Kljestan's influence upon entering the game was immediately apparent, and ultimately game-changing. Marsch's lineup choices paid off, but mainly due to his star midfielder's influence.
- GK DUEL: Until the goal, it was the goalkeepers on both sides who took all the headlines for the game. Arroyo had seven saves for Alianza, with Robles chipping in three for the Red Bulls, and both 'keepers did more than their share to keep the game level until the 90th minute. It will be a disappointing result in particular for Arroyo after his previous heroics, but it was a very good night for both netminders.
- NY: MLS: Sunday, September 18 at Toronto (5 pm ET; FOX, FOX Sports GO in US | TSN2 in Canada)