Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg is the perfect test for Toronto FC.
The Reds, who won the treble a year ago, face defending Liga MX champion Tigres at BMO Field in the first of two legs played in a six-day span.
With a weekend off from MLS action, Greg Vanney’s side set its full focus on the upcoming clash with the Mexican side.
“It’s an important test for us,” Vanney said. “We worked hard, did a lot last year, earned the right to be in this tournament, which was one of our objectives. Now it’s to win this tournament. The next team we have to play is Tigres, who are champions in their own right. This is the next test.”
Tigres presents an uptick in talent that the Reds have gone against so far this season, as they dispatched the Colorado Rapids in the CCL round of 16 and fell to the Columbus Crew in the first week of MLS play.
The Mexican champions have a wealth of attacking threats, starting with Frenchman Andre-Pierre Gignac, who has seven goals in ten games in the 2018 Clausura.
But Gignac isn’t the only star attacker the Reds have to contain, as Enner Valencia, Eduardo Vargas and Lucas Zelarayan are expected to feature in some type of starring role for the visitors.
Fullbacks Gregory van der Wiel and Justin Morrow are more than capable of silencing the threat posed by the Tigres attack, but it’s going to take an 11-man effort to keep the Mexican side off the scorebaord.
“We know we have to play well, execute in key moments,” Vanney said. “When two good teams play each other, it comes down to do you finish your chances and protect your goal. Those are key things we need to take care of in this match.”
If the fullbacks contain Tigres’ surges down the wings, it will bottle up play into the center of the park, a part of the field where the Reds usually thrive.
With Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez and Jonathan Osorio presiding over the middle, Tigres could find a hard path through that part of the field.
Of course, the Mexican side contains a star of its own in Mexican international Jesus Duenas in central midfield.
The clash between Duenas and Bradley is going to be one of the most intriguing individual matchups of the entire competition.
Tigres is coming off a 2-0 result of its own in league play, but that was a victory for the Mexican side against Veracruz.
Zelarayan and Gignac scored a goal each in the victory that saw them and Ismael Sosa start up top.
When it comes to TFC’s attack, Jozy Altidore has a battle on his hands with Juninho and Hugo Ayala, who has plenty of familiarity with the American forward from his time on the international stage with El Tri.
If Altidore is able to crack the Tigres defense that conceded three goals to Herediano in the round of 16, the Reds should set themselves up nicely for the return leg in Monterrey on Tuesday.
Of course the biggest key for Toronto is not concede. If they let in an away goal to Tigres, it could spell trouble for the Reds when they visit Monterrey in six days.
The margins are going to be tight between the pair of North American champions, but Toronto should have slight edge with home-field advantage and something to prove following the Week 1 defeat to the Crew.