Toronto FC took a big step towards the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals with a win over the Colorado Rapids in the opening leg of their round-of-16 series. Now, TFC just has to finish the job.
The Canadian side toppled the Rapids, 2-0, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, sealing a massive advantage heading into Tuesday’s second leg. With two away goals in their back pocket, and home field advantage now in play, TFC is highly favored to seal a quarterfinal berth.
“We went to Colorado in some pretty tough conditions and set ourselves up in a good way coming back here, but also we have a great appreciation for the fact that this isn’t done yet and we have some work to do,” said TFC boss Greg Vanney. “Our approach is that we’re going to be professional, play the game smart, and do the things that we try to do well, which is try to win the game.
“At the end of the day, we’re not going to sit back and protect it. We’re going to play smart, but we’re going to play forward and try to win the game.”
Playing at home is something TFC did remarkably well throughout the club’s 2017 treble-winning campaign. The club lost just one of 17 games at BMO Field during the regular season.
The other good news? TFC could see the official debuts of several new faces. While Gregory van der Wiel could miss out as he awaits the birth of his child, new faces Auro and Ager Aketxe could be in the TFC lineup.
“Given where we are as a team at this point, I think for new players coming in it’s a perfect situation,” said captain Michael Bradley. “You have a group that has been together for a number of years now, has had big experiences together, both good, more good, and a few bad as well. The strength of our group in every way is incredible.
“When you have new guys come in, across the board, they get welcomed with open arms. When you look at the dynamic inside our locker room, we have English, Spanish, French, Italian, now a little bit of Portuguese, Dutch, we have it all covered. It’s impossible not to fit in with our group. I think when new guys come in, they feel that, and they understand they’re coming into a team with high standards in every way.”
The Rapids, meanwhile, enter in the role of underdog. The club will need to push numbers forward from the onset on Tuesday night, a dangerous proposition against a team like TFC.
Last week, the Rapids attempted to play it safe, sitting back in a bank of five to try and frustrate TFC. This time, they’ll likely be a bit more aggressive. However, the lack of goals wasn’t for lack of chances for the Rapids, as the club squandered several first half looks to open the scoring.
Some of that can be attributed to rust. Some of it can be attributed to luck. Regardless, the Rapids will need the latter on their side if they want to escape the current 2-0 hole.
“Where the squad is at right now in terms of new squad, new players, new staff, coming off of last season, this is a very important part of our preparation,” said Rapids boss Anthony Hudson. “The key thing for us is an improvement from the last game. A few new players will get a start, and they need to get 90 minutes under their belt.
“We have to stick to our game plan and be better than we were last week,” added defender Tommy Smith. “For large periods, I thought we pressed them quite well, but a couple of lapses in concentration cost us. It will be a tough uphill battle, being 2-0 down, and they’ll be expecting to go to the next round comfortably but hopefully we can cause an upset. If we can get that first goal, maybe we can put them on edge a little bit, and we’ll see where we go from there.”