Brenden Aaronson was the only American in action in the Champions League knockout games this week, but he made the most of it, assisting on Salzburg’s goal in their near-miss draw against giants Bayern.
Red Bull Salzburg 1 – 1 FC Bayern
The Austrians came into Tuesday’s game as massive underdogs, despite playing host to their German neighbors, however put up a valiant fight and were only denied victory by a last-gasp goal from their red-clad guests.
Despite the Bavarians holding a massive edge on overall possession, with 72% of the time on the ball, the recently on-fire Aaronson still had an active game, with 50 total touches in his tactical position directly behind the two strikers. He completed 17 of his 23 attempted passes, took a pair of shots, set up his teammates for five further attempts, and most importantly, played a key role in assisting on his team’s early goal.
The Austrians were dealt a hard blow early on, when they lost starting striker Noah Okafor to an apparent thigh injury in the 12th minute, however his replacement Junior Adamu didn’t miss a beat in making a fast impact.
On a 21st-minute counter by Salzburg, Karim Adeyemi pulled down a long pass in the left flank and weaved his way towards the center, still well out of range. However, both Aaronson and Adamu had streaked up the field and came into position to his left.
With five Bavarian defenders surrounding the three Salzburg players, Adeyemi slipped the ball to Aaronson on his left, who flicked it with a single touch slightly forward into the path of Adamu. The 20 year-old Austrian international then lashed it with his first touch, just before Niklas Süle arrived, beating keeper Sven Ulreich at the right upright for the shocking 1-0 lead.
Three minutes later, Aaronson was close to making it 2-0, receiving the ball from Adamu in the middle of the area, scrappily fighting to create space to the left, then unleashing a shot towards the left upright that forced Ulreich into a diving save.
Two minutes before the half, The American picked out Adeyemi at the upper left corner of the area, with a clear line on goal; the chance however was wasted, with the German international sending his attempt directly into the sure hands of Ulreich.
The hosts had a reasonable shout for a penalty just before the 45-minute mark as Adeyemi aggressively tried to steal a throw-in off the foot of Benjamin Pavard just inside the area. The French defender appeared at first sight to have tripped up the Salzburg player in the process, but a short VAR review backed up the referee’s non-call.
While Bayern was more aggressive in the second half, increasingly dominating possession and the overall run of play, Salzburg continued to create plenty of chances, with the United States international in the thick of several.
In the 49th minute, he set up Nicolas Seiwald for a long-range attempt that forced Ulreich into another save, then five minutes later did the same for Adamu, whose shot from outside the area was blocked before it reached goal.
Increasingly, as the game wore down to its final moments, the Bavarians beat down their hosts little by little until an equalizing goal seemed all but inevitable.
Indeed, it finally came with just exactly one minute left in regulation. A long pass into the area was headed towards the left corner of the six-yard box by Thomas Müller. Kingsley Coman was waiting, and had all the time he needed to rush in and target the near post with his first touch for the equalizer.
While surely a disappointing final result for the Austrians, it does still leave the teams on even terms for when they play the return leg in Munich on Tuesday, March 8.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of domestic games for the Austrian champions to use as warm-ups, beginning with a visit from Wolfsberger AC in league play on Sunday, with a Cup semifinal also on the horizon.
Zack Steffen picked up an injury and did not travel with Manchester City to Portugal for their 5-0 drubbing of Sporting on Tuesday evening. The Citizens have the return leg in Manchester on Wednesday March 9.