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NYCFC falls to Tigres on late goal in first leg of CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson gives

New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson gives up a goal to Tigres forward Eduardo Vargas during the second half in the first leg of a quarterfinal in the CONCACAF Champions League soccer tournament Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Harrison, N.J. Tigres won 1-0. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

HARRISON, New Jersey — New York City FC’s first big test against Mexican competition will be one for the club to forget.

NYCFC allowed the only goal of the match in stoppage time, falling to Tigres UANL, 1-0, in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.

Despite not controlling possession, City had most of the chances  for the first 90 minutes, but fell asleep momentarily in the second minute of stoppage time. NYCFC keeper Sean Johnson was able to save a shot from outside of the box by Tigres forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, but no defenders were nearby to collect the rebound, allowing Eduardo Vargas to step in and slide the ball into the net for the evening’s lone goal.

“It’s very frustrating for me and the players,” said coach Ronny Deila. “Of course I feel sorry for everyone when you get so many chances and you can’t get the result in the end, but that’s football.”

NYCFC hosted its Champions League home match at Red Bull Arena for the second straight round because of ongoing field work at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. Official attendance for the match was 10,212, a much better showing than last round as Tigres’ support filled much of the stadium.

NYCFC had most of the best scoring opportunities in the first half. Despite playmaker Maxi Moralez beginning the night on the bench, CIty was able to create several chances in the final third. Keaton Parks and Alex Ring were crucial in forcing turnovers in midfield and advancing the ball forward, while James Sands stayed deep as a sweeper of sorts in front of City’s defensive line.

Centerbacks Alex Callens and Maxime Chanot teamed to make life difficult for Tigres attacker Gignac. The French forward was visibly frustrated by his teammates’ inability to find him in dangerous areas, often coming deep in an attempt to get some time on the ball.

“It’s tough to lose in the last minute, it’s the third game we’ve lost 1-0,” Sands said. “That was tough, but it’s just about figuring out why this is happening. I think we just lost our concentration a little bit, but we’re playing games so often now that at least we get to play in three days now.”

In addition to Moralez’s exclusion from the starting lineup, Jesús Medina began on the bench for the first time under new head coach Deila. Instead, Ismael Tajour-Shradi brought a physical, high-energy brand of soccer to the right wing.

NYCFC continued to create early in the second half, but struggled to make the final move to score. By the 75th minute, Deila refreshed his attack, bringing in Moralez, Medina and Valentín Castellanos

The game opened up for both teams late as each tried to get a winner and take an advantage into the second leg. Medina had one of the game’s best chances shortly after coming on with a run into the six-yard box, but couldn’t get a clean shot off. Castellanos got around a man in the 81st minute and was tackled hard in the box, but no penalty was given.

Alexandru Mitrita looked to earn a penalty in the 88th minute when he also was tackled hard in the box, and the referee appeared to be pointing to the spot before eventually ruling there was no foul.

"It’s just the finishing part, we’re getting in the spaces, getting in spots," said Parks. "Those guys just need to get the confidence back is what it is, I think."

City was able to stifle Tigres’ chances late, including a great shot by Gignac that Johnson pushed over the bar. But on the last chance of the night, nobody could make the game-saving stop.

City will travel to Mexico for the second leg next, scheduled for Tueday evening.

NYCFC is expected to next take the field for its MLS home opener on Saturday against FC Dallas at Yankee Stadium despite nationwide coronavirus concerns. The league has postponed matches in San Jose and Seattle following local restrictions on large gatherings, but matches in other markets will continue as planned as of a Thursday news release.

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