The New York Red Bulls booked their first ever trip to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday evening. A rain-soaked scoreless draw against Antigua GFC in Guatemala City was enough for New York to clinch Group F in the competition and move into the knockout round.
The victory sets the team up with a unique set of opportunities in the new year when the competition resumes. The Red Bulls will be one of eight clubs vying for a chance to be crowned champions of CONCACAF and take on the some of the world’s best at the FIFA Club World Cup.
We look at what this historic achievement means for the New York Red Bulls and their 2017 season ahead.
New York Red Bulls Advance In The CCL: What It Means For 2017
A First For Everything
New York have had two previous entries to the CONCACAF Champions League in their history, but did not manage to navigate their way past the group stage.
The 2009-10 edition featured a qualifying round before a 16-team group phase. The Red Bulls were drawn up against Trinidad’s W Connection in a two-leg tie for a place in the next stage.
A 2-2 draw in Marabella was followed by a disappointing 2-1 loss at Giants Stadium to see their regional journey end early.
The 2014-15 competition featured New York in a group with fellow MLS side Montreal Impact and Salvadoran club CD FAS. Only one win in four was not enough for the Red Bulls, as Montreal moved on to the quarterfinals.
Manager Jesse Marsch and his team will be excited to write a new chapter in the franchise’s history at the beginning of next season.
With some of the Champions League group winners yet to be determined, the Red Bulls will have to wait a couple of weeks before their quarterfinal opponents are known.
Within their own league, there are still talented MLS sides alive for a spot in the next round. League champion Portland Timbers await a crucial match with Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa for top spot in Group B.
The Vancouver Whitecaps finished off group play with four wins from four matches, and will likely be top seed in the knockout round. FC Dallas and Guatemala’s CD Suchitepequez will meet in a group-deciding encounter in October as well.
CD Arabe Unido (Panama), Pachuca (Mexico) and Tigres UANL (Mexico) are all quality opposition that the Red Bulls could face in February.
An Early Start for the 2017 Season
The CONCACAF Champions League follows the FIFA calendar and runs similar to its UEFA counterpart. The overlap of the MLS schedule presents the Red Bulls and Jesse Marsch with a unique challenge for the start of their 2017 campaign.
With the quarterfinals beginning before the start of the 2017 MLS schedule, it will be crucial for the club to be engaged early and in their best possible form.
Since the CONCACAF championship adopted the current tournament structure in 2008, no MLS team has been able to lift the trophy. Only Real Salt Lake (2010-11) and the Montreal Impact (2014-15) have managed to make the final, before losing to Mexican opposition (Monterrey & Club America).
Other teams in the region that are aligned with the FIFA calendar find themselves in peak condition, while MLS sides are still essentially grinding through preseason.
If the New York Red Bulls want to continue to make history, they will need to be prepared for a busy start to 2017.