New York Red Bulls close in on SCCL goal
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The New York Red Bulls (pictured) will play their first-Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match on February 22, 2017, against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps. (Photo: Mexsport)

HARRISON, New Jersey -- When Sacha Kljestan joined the New York Red Bulls two years ago, the Major League Soccer club set a goal of reaching the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

The Red Bulls find themselves only two games away from that milestone, hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the 2016/17 quarterfinals at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday.

"Once you get to this point of the tournament and there are eight teams left, you just think ‘Why can't we just win it all?‘ " said Kljestan.  “Easier said than done, right?  But I'm excited about our challenge.  It would be great for this club to reach the semifinals, where we would play against a Mexican opponent and really test ourselves against them and some of the best teams in North America."

The second leg is in Vancouver on March 2, but the United States international isn’t looking that far ahead.

"One step at a time right now, but I have high goals as leader of this team that we can win trophies this year," Kljestan stressed.  "At least one, I am hoping."

So are his teammates.

"This is everything," remarked high-scoring striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.  "The Red Bulls have never gotten this far in the Champions League.  We have the chance to be part of this history and take the club as far as it’s ever been.  It's a big game, a very big game.  It's one of the biggest of the year."

The Red Bulls, who opened preseason training on January 23, will have all their players available, including midfielders Mike Grella (arthroscopic knee surgery) and Alex Muyl (head injury) and center back Damien Perrinelle (late preseason arrival).

Head coach Jesse Marsch said that his players "are not all totally fit, they are not all totally sharp.  So I know it's not going to be the best match we ever played.  If you ask Vancouver, I think they would say they are in same boat.  I expect our team, in all ways, to go out on Wednesday night and give everything they have.”