The New York Red Bulls earned their spot in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League by winning the 2015 Supporters Shield. The team's form has been less consistent since, but it channeled the achievements of last year's squad into a 3-0 win to start its effort to win Group F of this year's CCL.
The Red Bulls got on the board with some help from opponent Antigua GFC. Alejandro Galindo had his back to his own goal his arms around Shaun Wright-Phillips as a corner caromed around the box. The decision to embrace SWP turned against Galindo, who was helpless as the ball rocketed at him and pinged into the net off his back.
Next, not only were the Red Bulls up a goal, all of a sudden they were up a man. Sixto Betancourt saw a straight red card in the 26th minute. He leapt in the air at Felipe to challenge the ball and appeared to connect with his opponent's face - out came the red card from Referee Javier Andres Santos Escobar.
When the Red Bulls have a man advantage they often have a problem trying to break down their opponents for the rest of the match. Not so tonight. They got two more goal, from Alex Muyl and Sacha Kljestan respectively. Muyl earned his tally in the 62nd minute to give the home side a two-goal advantage.
After hitting the woodwork several times and not getting rewarded, Muyl finally found the target thanks to a low cross from Kemar Lawrence. Muyl intelligently held the ball up to draw a sliding Cristian Alvarez out of position, and then converted inside the back post for his first international club goal.
Then Sacha Kljestan, who subbed into the match in the 77th minute, converted two minutes later. He got into great position with a give-and-go passing display with Gonzalo Veron, and fired home the cut-back from the Argentine DP.
The Red Bulls played very well, but this was a chippy game. Damien Perrinelle got taken down hard by Fabian Castillo and later on both Alex Muyl and Shaun Wright-Phillips were paying back Antigua with some of their own hard challenges.
But after a feisty first half both sides finally calmed down and we saw some great action from both teams. Ryan Meara got himself into great positions to prevent the ball from going inside his net and made a fantastic save in the 21st minute as Antigua countered effectively.
There was a nasty clash of heads when Aurelien Collin and Agustin Herrera went up for the ball. Collin was the one who took it the worst as he was cut below his eye and had to get stitched up, change his shirt and don a head band. After the match he showed the media his shiner around his left eye.
But the biggest highlight of this match was seeing five homegrown players being used in this international club competition. Sean Davis, Alex Muyl, Ryan Meara started the match; then subbing in was Connor Lade, followed by the first-team debut of Derrick Etienne Jr., who has been blowing up the USL with fantastic goals and beautiful moves.
It was great performance all round for RBNY, but now the team must return its focus to MLS. This coming Sunday they fly across the country to face the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Stub Hub Center, looking for that elusive second league win on the road.