Toronto FC’s victory over Tigres was certainly a statement heard all across North America. But now, the Canadian club faces their reward: a clash with another of Liga MX’s contenders in CONCACAF Champions League play.
Following a victory over Real Salt Lake in MLS over the weekend, TFC hosts Club America on Tuesday in the opening leg of their CCL clash. Club America currently sits fourth in Liga MX, although their position is slightly deceptive when compared to their overall performances. Make no mistake: Club America is one of Mexico’s toughest teams, having only lost once on the season while conceding just 10 times from 13 matches.
“I think it’s two good teams who each have their strengths and weaknesses,” said TFC boss Greg Vanney. “Whoever gains an advantage this first leg will be the favorite going into the next. I think it’s tough to say.
“They’re a good team, they’ve had a great season, they’ve won a lot of championships over their history. We’ve been in a good way over the past year and change going into this. We also have a good team. I don’t know how you’d say which is the favorites. It’s difficult to say.”
For TFC to truly challenge Club America, they’ll have to get something from the first leg. Heading down to the Estadio Azteca is no easy task, especially for a team that finds itself chasing. If TFC can emerge with an advantage, like they did against Tigres, they’ll be in a good place.
Knowing that, the MLS club will need to break down a defense of Paul Aguilar, Bruno Valdez, Emanuel Aguilera and Carlos Vargas, a group that has likely been Mexico’s best this season. All season, the backline has proven tough to break down, with set pieces proving the team’s biggest weakness thus far.
TFC will rely on Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, as per usual. Playmaker Victor Vazquez remains questionable, though, but, if the Spanish star is healthy, TFC has the pieces to create problems for the Mexican side’s backline.
“They’ll play what the game gives them. Defensively, they move together, try to make the game difficult for the opposition,” Vanney said. “I don’t think they’ll come in and just sit back in their half or anything like that to get out with a result with a low number on it.
“My anticipation is that they’ll come and try to play and create turnovers in advantageous positions and try to play in transition and will still look for moments to try and be aggressive.”
TFC also has a little bit of background knowledge of how Club America will approach the match. The two sides faced off in a preseason match, one which saw Tigres use wide areas and set pieces to score three goals against TFC.
“One of the things we took away was how much they value the width of the field,” Vanney said. “They’re a team that likes to get wide, like to get service, like to get wingers on the ball in wide areas.
“It was interesting, and beneficial as we went into the Tigres series. These teams value width more than MLS teams, who sometimes like to play with possession through the middle of the field and things like that. They try to play the ball wide, get wingers isolated, try to get guys service and attack the box. It’s not the only thing they do, but it’s a big priority.”
TFC’s big priority is a strong first leg start, much like the one against Tigres. If they can find that, a crack at the CCL Final isn’t out of reach for a team that has made it a clear priority since lifting MLS Cup in December.
“Our objective is to win the game and get a shutout,” Vanney said. “That’s the easy answer. Get a lead and keep them off the board so they don’t get an away goal. That would be good.
“If we can keep a shutout, that’s always going to be positive, and then we go from there. It would be good to gain an advantage before going to the Azteca.”