Alexander Callens. In the 41st minute. Off the woodwork, and in.
That was all the scoring New York City FC needed to join fellow Eastern Conference contenders Atlanta United in the quarterfinals of the ScotiaBank CONCACAF Champions League. That was all the scoring the Pigeons needed because they scored five — five! — away goals six days ago against AD San Carlos in Ciudad Quesada, Costa Rica.
That made tonight’s second-leg match against Los Toros del Norte (San Carlos’ nickname) a glorified scrimmage. It certainly felt that way; the game was played in front of only a few thousand spectators at Red Bull Arena (the home stadium for New York City’s arch rivals). New York City manager Ronny Deila didn’t take any chances with the lineup, though: his starting eleven was essentially a first-choice eleven, with only Keaton Parks and Héber sitting — they were replaced by James Sands and Valentin Castellanos, respectively, players who’ve earned plenty of minutes themselves.
The Pigeons took the game to San Carlos from the start, but didn’t score until late in the first half, when Alex Callens took flight and headed home a cross that was floated in sky-high from Alexandru Mitriță. That made the score 1-0 on the night, and 6-3 on aggregate.
In the second half, the Pigeons repeatedly tore through the San Carlos defense; they came closest to adding a second goal in the 74th minute, when Medina nearly sneaked a goal through the legs of Toros keeper Patrick Pemberton, before Pemberton scrambled the ball into his arms just inches from the goal line.
Up next for New York City in the CCL? Mexican powerhouse Tigres UANL. Tigres narrowly escaped with a 5-4 aggregate win against Alianza FC of El Salvador, but NYC fans shouldn’t be under any illusions that this matchup will be easy; Tigres have been Mexican champions 7 times, and have won the Copa MX three times. The team was the 2015 Copa Libertadores Finals (the South American equivalent of the Champions League) runner-up to River Plate.
On the domestic side, New York City will kick off their sixth MLS season against perennial rivals and bogey team Columbus Crew SC this Sunday in Columbus at 12:30 pm.