Fresh off a wild opening weekend to the league regular season, the four remaining MLS sides in the CONCACAF Champions League (RIP Toronto) had a short window to prepare for their second-round opponents.
Tuesday was not kind to American clubs. New York and Houston found themselves facing a two-goal deficit for their second leg. MLS teams did not fare better on Wednesday, with Sporting Kansas City and Atlanta falling on the road and facing massive uphill climbs to continue in the tournament.
New York Red Bulls 0-2 Santos Laguna
New York, despite coming into the match-up with momentum, knew they were going to have a battle on their hands to advance past the Mexican club. Ranked as the fifth most popular team in Mexico, in the clubs’ thirty-year existence Santos have won the league six times and finished runners up another five times. Santos made it to this stage by blowing past Honduran side CD Marathon 11-2 on aggregate in the previous round.
New York was able to take advantage of the cold, some unfortunate travel arrangements for the visitors and the comfort of home to come out on the offensive, getting a phenomenal look at the goal in the third minute. Bradley Wright-Phillips was the recipient of a gorgeous through ball that put him one on one with Santos keeper Jonathan Orozco, but Orozco was able to parry away Phillip’s shot with a strong right hand. Orozco made another fantastic save in the 35th minute to keep the game scoreless as he was able to slide out to block a point-blank shot from Daniel Royer, who was first to a deflected Phillips shot.
Santos was able to strike on both sides of the halftime whistle, as Diego Valdes was able to shake his defender and rip a right-footed shot past Luis Robles into the bottom left corner in the 42nd minute, and then built on the lead as Brian Lozano had a clever flick on of a cross to Julio Furch, who slotted home to complete the scoreline.
Wright-Phillips had one last effort to bring New York back within one goal in the 90th minute, turning and firing a laser from the penalty spot, but Orozco was once again up to the challenge, pushing the shot over the bar, preserving the shutout.
Houston Dynamo 0-2 Tigres UNAL
On Tuesday night Houston welcomed CONCACAF favorites Tigres and their ten thousand fans to BBVA Compass Arena, hoping to gain a similar early advantage as UNAL’s prior opponent, Deportivo Saprissa, who took the first leg 1-0 before ultimately falling 2-5 on aggregate.
UNAL was on the front foot for most of the game, applying pressure throughout and forcing Dynamo goalie Joe Willis into a number of fantastic saves in the 36th, 47th and 71st minutes, with the latter his most impressive as Willis was able to come sliding out to make a point blank save after a beautiful ball from midfield split two Dynamo defenders and sent the Tigres attacker in on goal.
Things fell apart for Houston beginning in the 78th minute, with the Dynamo defense finally succumbing to the visitors speed and passing. Columbian star Enner Valencia was played in well in the 78th minute and was able to slot home into the right corner, and three minutes later Julian Quinones beat Dynamo defender DaMarcus Beasley to a long, lofted ball from midfield, and was able to rip a shot from the edge of the 18-yard box into the roof of the goal, blowing past Willis and cementing a solid road win for the Mexican side.
CAI 2-1 Sporting Kansas City
On Wednesday night Kansas City got the best result of the week for MLS sides, falling 2-1 but picking up a critical away goal against a Panamanian side that had already eliminated Toronto in the previous round.
Independiente had the first good chance of the night, forcing a great save in 25th minute by Sporting’s Adrian Zendejas, who made himself big following a fantastic through ball. The deadlock lasted until just before halftime, when Romeesh Ivey was found by Omar Browne as he drove down the left flank before cutting a ball back to Ivey, who was unmarked and lurking around the six-yard box, and was able to blast the ball into the net.
Ilie Sánchez helped Kansas City back into the game in the 51st minute, converting from the penalty spot, but the tie was short lived as Alexis Corpas restored lead in 59th minute with a wonderfully struck goal. Corpas received a pass near midfield and dribbled to about 25 yards out before ripping a shot to the top left corner of goal that left Zendejas with no chance.
Monterrey 3-0 Atlanta United
On Wednesday the three-time CONCACAF champions Monterrey welcomed an Atlanta United team that had performed a miracle in the second leg of their previous matchup to advance this far, and by the end of the evening it was clear Atlanta would have to conjure that magic at home again next week.
Monterrey nearly opened the scoring in the first ten minutes, with a strong headed effort from a free kick beating Atlanta goalie Brad Guzan, but ricocheting off the crossbar. The host broke through just six minutes later, with Nicolas Sanchez converting a penalty kick following a flagrant foul in the box.
Atlanta dug in and held strong following the early bit of pressure from Monterrey, and looked set to head back to Atlanta trailing 1-0. However, Monterrey ramped up the pressure late, and found two late goals. First, in the 80th minute Dorlan Pabon ripped a shot just inside the left post from eighteen yards out, assisted by Carlos Rodriguez. Then minutes later, Pabon assisted Jesus Gallardo, sending in a cross from the right that found Gallardo unmarked and able to complete the rout.