VANCOUVER â€” The Vancouver Whitecaps know they hold an advantage when they host the New York Red Bulls in Thursday’s second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final.
The Whitecaps collected an important away goal when they earned a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the two-game aggregate series last Wednesday in Harrison, N.J.
The decision facing Vancouver now is how to use that edge in the deciding game at B.C. Place Stadium. Do the Whitecaps sit back and try to defend against their Major League Soccer rival, or do they go looking for an early goal?
“You can’t sit back against the Red Bulls because they are very good on the ball,” Whitecaps’ goalkeeper David Ousted said after a training session earlier this week.
“You can do it for a certain time, you’ll have to defend well against them. You’ll also have to try and hurt them the other way. We have the personnel to do that.”
Defender Tim Parker said the experienced Red Bulls won’t panic. They will be careful not to give up a goal but will take advantage of any mistakes the Whitecaps make.
“I think they are an attacking-minded team in general,” said Parker. “I don’t think we should expect them to wait on the opportunity.
“I think they are going to come in with the mindset they want to win the game, not just score a goal. We will have to be ready for their attacking mindset.”
Head coach Carl Robinson wasn’t about to give away any game plans. He said the coaching staff will have a strategy in place.
“We have the away goal which is always nice,” said Robinson.
“I know our preparation will be spot on. We’ll have a game plan like we did in New York prepared. Then it will be down to the players to go and play that.”
Red Bulls’ coach Jesse Marsch said allowing the away goal doesn’t change how his team will play in Vancouver.
“Which ever way it goes, it’s going to be tight,” Marsch told the Red Bulls’ website.
“We have to go there and score goals. We were prepared to do that anyway. Our group has trained really well this week.”
New York played a 4-2-2-2 formation in the opening match.
“We like the way it operates,” said Marsch. “Still a long way to go before it’s being employed at its top effectiveness.”
Midfielder Kekuta Manneh scored in the 39th minute for Vancouver in the opening game. Bradley Wright-Phillips salvaged the tie for New York in the 62nd minute.
The game also featured Ousted stopping a penalty kick and midfielder Cristian Techera being given a red card.
The CONCACAF Champions League features the top teams from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The winner of Thursday’s match advances to the semifinal against either Pumas UNAM or Tigres UANL, both teams from Mexico.
Fredy Montero, the Whitecaps’ recently acquired striker, didn’t play in the opening match but Robinson expects he will dress Thursday. There’s also a chance midfielder Brek Shea, who was acquired this weekend from Orlando City SC, might be available.
The Red Bulls have plenty of firepower.
Wright-Phillips has played for Manchester City and Southampton. He also is a two-time MLS Golden Boot winner. Midfielder Sacha Kljestan, a U.S. national team midfielder, led MLS with 20 assists in 2016.
Advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal would be an important achievement for the Whitecaps, who joined MLS in 2011. It also would help set the tone for the 2017 season after Vancouver missed the MLS playoffs last year.
“It’s very important for us as an institution and we want to make history here,” said defender Kendall Waston.
“All the other pre-season games we weren’t fighting for any points. Now we are fighting with the mentality this is an intense match. That helps us to be very prepared for the first match of the season.”
The Whitecaps open their MLS season Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Union.
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect placeline.