Toronto FC is one step away from a CONACAF Champions League crown. After vanquishing Mexican powerhouses Tigres and Club America, TFC is now set to take on another historic side in Chivas de Guadaljara, who booked their own spot by taking down the New York Red Bulls.
Throughout TFC’s run through both MLS and the CCL, the reigning MLS Cup champions have been able to set a tone through home legs. Against Tigres, it was a late goal and a slight advantage. Against Club America, it was a multi-goal win that set up for a simple second leg.
With Chivas heading to BMO Field for Tuesday’s first leg, the idea is the same: seal an early advantage in an environment that remains uncomfortable for opposing teams.
“In those first two series, our home leg set us up for the next game, and that’s what we’re going to try to do with this game,” added midfielder Jonathan Osorio. “We go into every match trying to win, and I think we proved that. Maybe we have to go in and try and win a different ways, but we try to win.
“We went into Tigres with the lead and in America we were winning for 90 minutes. We go into every game to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s home or away, but we know this is two legs, and we want to set ourselves up to win.”
TFC boss Greg Vanney says he expects the environment to play a factor, and by environment he means a number of different factors. There’s the crowd, the field, the travel and, perhaps most importantly, the weather. Temperatures are expected to be close to freezing, adding another layer to a difficult trip for Chivas.
Still, TFC has concerns of their own. Victor Vazquez and Justin Morrow are likely to miss out due to injury while Jozy Altidore, Gregory van der Wiel and Chris Mavinga are questionable. That’s just about half of TFC’s starting lineup while a total of five players are on yellow card watch with a suspension looming with one more caution. Still, Vanney says he is “encouraged” by who he has available and that several key players have trained fully throughout the week.
Making matters tougher, though? The way Chivas plays. Jesse Marsch, whose Red Bulls fell, 1-0, to the Mexican club in the last round, says that Chivas are a tactically unique team, and Vanney agrees. They man mark extensively, and will change positions to match any swaps made by their man on the other side of the field.
It’s something Vanney says you don’t see often in MLS, adding another challenge for TFC.
“They are unique. The irony of Jesse’s statement is that they are similar to the way Jesse plays,” Vanney said. “They are a very personal team, and what I mean is that when they decide to initiate pressure, they are very personal with man on man marking. They’ll track guys all around the field. They’re very disciplined in that. They’re very good at individual marking in terms of taking good angles.
“They don’t give you a lot of time on the ball because someone is always right with you. That’s how they’re unique.”
TFC has shown an ability to be unique as well, winning in a number of different ways. At home, TFC tends to be aggressive in pursuit of an advantage while, on the road, the team has shown the ability to play counter-attacking, defensive soccer.
Vanney says you need that type of mentality to win an event like the CCL and, now that the club is one step away, the pressure is very much on TFC to take advantage of the opportunity.
“I think it’s pretty clear,” Osorio said. “An MLS club hasn’t won this competition since the change in the format, so to be the first to do that would be huge. For it to really change soccer in both the states and Canada, MLS clubs will need to continue to win this tournament because Liga MX sides have a big history.
“It starts with us, and that’s huge. It gives other teams and ourselves belief that it can be done.”