The New York Red Bulls opened their 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a 3-0 home win over Guatemala's Antigua. It was a near-perfect start to the group stage for RBNY, who next face a potentially tricky trip to El Salvador to play Alianza.
But that is a future concern. For now, RBNY can enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.
Three thoughts about the game:
1. Well done, Mr. Marsch
Head coach Jesse Marsch has had to roll with a lot of punches this season: inadequate tactics, injuries, frustratingly inconsistent form from key players. But this was a game in which just about everything went just about right. One imagines Marsch got most of what he was looking for out of this game. No Red Bulls were hurt or sent off. Everyone selected played well. And the team grew in confidence and effectiveness as the match progressed.
Kemar Lawrence's first start since injury derailed his Copa America Centenario went well, and the left back was instrumental in setting up RBNY's second goal, shortly before he was subbed out of the match (unharmed - which was also important).
Gonzalo Veron played a full 90 minutes, looking increasingly fluid and comfortable as the game went on. And his combination with Sacha Kljestan for RBNY's third goal showed an on-field chemistry with his teammates that has been too often lacking for the Argentine DP.
Marsch also got minutes for both Sean Davis and Tyler Adams, who will likely be asked to step up to fill the void left by the injured Dax McCarty. Alex Muyl was a pest all night, and saw his work rewarded with a goal.
And Marsch's every substitution made a positive impact on the game.
It was a good night for RBNY, and for its coach. The best laid plans often go awry. But not on this night. On this night, Jesse Marsch got pretty much everything he wanted.
2. Derrick Etienne's first team debut
Earlier in the day, USL revealed Derrick Etienne at #3 on its list of the top 20 players under 20 in its ranks. In the accompanying profile, Etienne told Scott Kessler that he was looking forward to eventually cracking the RBNY first team starting lineup. The 19-year-old knows it will take a little time:
That's my ultimate goal – to start for the first team...Hopefully I’m doing well enough that the coaching staff feels confident to put me into [first-team] game situations.
Serendipitously, Etienne got his first competitive outing for RBNY on the day that interview was published. He was given 20 minutes at the end of the game to show what he can do - and he did everything but score. Granted, he was playing against a tired, demoralized, diminished (Antigua had been playing with 10 men since midway through the first half) opponent. But Etienne dazzled. Repeatedly.
It wasn't quite the memorable debut it could have been (he had a shot hit the post late in the game), but it was still impressive and a promising sign of what might yet be to come from one of the most exciting attacking prospects on RBNY's books at the moment.
3. Antigua will be challenging in Guatemala
By the final whistle, it was easy to forget that this game had started as a relatively even match-up. In the early stages of the first half, Antigua gave as good as it got, and arguably had the better chances. Ryan Meara made some very important saves to keep the visitors off the scoresheet. RBNY's opening goal was a somewhat freakish deflection off Alejandro Galindo's back.
Sixto Betancourt's 26th-minute red card turned the game decisively in the home team's favor. And Antigua's decision to sit back and concede possession in the second half gave RBNY license to run rampant. The Red Bulls made home and numerical advantage count. But they will also know that Antigua will probably not be so easily subdued in Guatemala.
The return match against Antigua will be RBNY's last of the group stage. If it counts for something for both sides, the Red Bulls would be well advised to send out a strong lineup.