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CONCACAF CL: Red Bulls and Dynamo face uphill battles vs. Liga MX

CONCACAF Champions League
ZAPOPAN, MEXICO - APRIL 25: CONCACAF Champions League 2018 trophy is seen during the second leg match of the final between Chivas and Toronto FC as part of CONCACAF Champions League 2018 at Akron Stadium on April 25, 2018 in Zapopan, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal round kicks off Tuesday night at 8:00 PM (ET) when New York Red Bulls host Mexican side Santos Laguna at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. Followed by Houston Dynamo vs. UANL Tigres, which kicks off at 10:00 PM (ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, TX.

New York Red Bulls vs. Santos Laguna

Red Bulls are coming off a 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew on Saturday, where manager Chris Armas decided to rest 8 of 11 starters in preparation for tonight’s match. Santos Laguna had won four in a row before losing 3-0 to Club Leon in Liga MX this weekend with a full strength squad.

Both teams are coming off of strong Round of 16 performances in CONCACAF Champions League acton. Red Bulls won 5-0 on aggregate vs. Atletico Pantoja of the Dominican Republic, while Santos Laguna thrashed Marathon of Honduras 11-2 on aggregate scoring. Red Bulls stout defense will have their hands full with forwards Javier Correa and Julio Furch, who netted five of Santos’ 11 goals vs. Marathon. The Liga MX side is good going forward, but can be vulnerable at the back. Especially to a high pressing style which thrives off of turnovers like New York.

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I expect Red Bulls to come out in their normal 4-2-3-1 formation with Bradley Wright-Phillips as the long striker and Kaku behind him pulling the strings. Daniel Royer and Alex Muyl (or Florian Valot) will be on the wings providing width while Sean Davis and Marc Rzatkowski shield the center-backs. Santos Laguna on the other hand is very unpredictable when it comes to lining up. Manager Salvador Reyes has gone with four different formations in the past five matches; so much for “consistency is key”. Santos ran out a 4-3-3 vs. Cruz Azul before deploying a 4-4-2 in the first leg vs. Marathon. They switched to a 4-2-3-1 in the second leg before playing a 5-3-2 vs. Leon this past weekend. It will be interesting to see if they decide to play it safe, with four at the back and push their central midfielders deeper to offset RBNY’s press. Or will Reyes elect go with five at the back, allowing his wing-backs to bomb forward and catch New York napping? Either way, get your popcorn ready for this CONCACAF Champions League match.

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Prediction: 1-1 draw

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Houston Dynamo vs. UANL Tigres

Dynamo are coming off a 1-1 draw vs. Real Salt Lake in MLS on Saturday, where they trailed for the first hour of the match until Mauro Manotas got on the end of a near post cross to equalize in the 62nd minute. Tigres won 3-0 over the weekend, with two of their three scores resulting from Pachuca own goals. UANL Tigres have won 4 of their last five matches and sit atop the Liga MX table with a +11 goal differential.

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Both teams were favored in their Round of 16 matches and had a tougher than expected time disposing of the underdogs. Houston had to dig deep and squeak out two victories vs. scrappy Guatemalan side Guastatoya, winning 3-1 on aggregate. Tigres were upset in the first leg by Costa Rican side CD Saprissa, proving that even Liga MX Goliaths can be slayed by a CONCACAF David. UANL went on to hammer them 5-1 at home in the second leg and restored order to the North American soccer world.

I expect Wilmer Cabrera’s side to line-up in their normal 4-2-3-1 with Mauro Manotas up top, Tomas Martinez behind him with Romell Quito and Alberth Elis on the wings. Oscar Boniek Garcia will man the middle with either newcomer Adam Lundqvist or the ageless wonder DeMarcus Beasley will bomb forward from the left-back spot. UANL Tigres alternate between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1; occasionally they’ll play five at the back in Liga MX. French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac will not play tonight due to a knee injury. So I expect Eduardo Vargas to start up front with Enner Valencia either playing next to him as a second striker or behind him as an attacking midfielder.

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One interesting thing to watch tonight will be how manager Ricardo Ferretti deploys midfielder Jesus Duenas. Duenas has served as a utility knife for Ferretti playing centrally in the midfield, out left as a winger and even in the back four as an attacking fullback – he was used as a defender vs. Pachuca on Saturday. If Duenas plays left-back tonight vs. Houston, expect Tigres to be on the front foot all night while swinging crosses into the box. With that said, Alberth Elis may have a field day on the counter-attack if he can occupy the space vacated by Duenas when he makes overlapping runs.

Prediction: UANL Tigres win 2-1

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