Chivas stay patient and solid in crucial victory over New York Red Bulls
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- When the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals were set, Chivas appeared the least likely of the four Mexican clubs to reach the final. The club was struggling in the league, internal friction between key figures within the institution was making headlines and the players were affected.
Now after Wednesday's 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls in front of 41,028 inside Estadio Chivas, the all-Mexican team from Guadalajara is the most likely Liga MX side to make the final, with Chivas' arch-rival Club America losing 3-1 to Toronto at BMO Field on Tuesday and facing a massive ask to turn the score around next week.
Liga MX sides had lost five of the seven games played against MLS opposition in 2018 heading into the match and Chivas needed to restore a bit of pride against the Red Bulls, with fans parading banners around the field and the club dropping tickets to as little as $5.50 USD to fill the stadium.
"Mexico's greatest," read one banner and the subliminal message was something along the lines of: 'If all the other Mexican teams can't get it together this year in the CCL, Chivas will be the one to save Liga MX's face.'
It all made for a real cup-tie atmosphere at Chivas, a club that boast 40 million fans but who haven't won CONCACAF's club competition since 1962.
This was a deserved win for Los Rojiblancos, although the Red Bulls pushed the Liga MX team hard. While there still isn't a sense that Chivas is hitting the same kind of form that took them to the 2017 Clausura title, there is a drive and determination that was missing in the early part of this year.
Chivas had the better possession, certainly in the first half, but the key to victory for the home side was the way they stifled the New York Red Bulls' direct approach. Chivas are one of the physically smallest teams in Liga MX and Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch had done his homework, with the MLS team not playing its usual passing style and instead testing Guadalajara out with more direct balls.
You don't have to dig too deep into what the Red Bulls are as a team to realize that Bradley Wright-Phillips is deadly in the penalty area and that stopping him from getting the ball there is going to help your team's chances of getting a result.
Wright-Phillips had two shots all game. One was off target and the other came when Chivas center-back Jair Pereira gave up possession on the edge of the penalty, leaving Wright-Phillips one-on-one with Rodolfo Cota in the 80th minute.
It proved to be perhaps the crucial moment in the game. Cota stood tall and Wright-Phillips couldn't squeeze his shot past him, stopping the Red Bulls from scoring what would've been an important away goal.
Matias Almeyda's team wobbled at times with the long balls, especially from throw-ins, but Chivas managed to hold strong, even as the Red Bulls began to have more of a push in the second half and Chivas were forced to play counter-attacking football.
Chivas didn't create many real chances and the only goal came from a Red Bulls' mistake. Rodolfo Pizarro snatched the ball off a stray Tyler Adams pass in the 26th minute, charged down on goal and released Isaac Brizuela to finish from a first-time shot.
It was tough on the 19-year-old Adams, who responded in the second half with a confident display.
The Red Bulls threw caution to the wind in the second half and the game was finely poised. Chivas posed a threat on the counter and the MLS team was pushing more players forward into the box in search of a crucial away goal.
That state of affairs changed when Aurelien Collin received his second yellow in the 73rd, although the Red Bulls' best chance -- via Wright-Phillips -- came after that.
This wasn't a game for the purists, but everything is set up for next Tuesday's return leg in Red Bull Arena, with both sides showing enough to suggest it'll be a nail-biter between two very different teams.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.