Toronto FC has made some real progress through their CONCACAF Champions League run. They took down Tigres, widely seen as the region’s best team. They went into the Azteca, held on, and moved past Club America, cementing one of the biggest wins in MLS’ CCL history.
But all of that will lose a little shine if Wednesday night doesn’t produce what would be TFC’s biggest achievement yet. TFC will have to come from behind, something they haven’t had to do throughout this run. and, if they can, there will be a trophy at the end of it.
Following a 2-1 first leg defeat, TFC will need to score at least twice in Wednesday’s second leg against Chivas de Guadalajara. Anything less than two goals will see Chivas claim the crown, while any goal from the Liga MX side opens up a number of intriguing scenarios.
It’s the latest big game and big challenge for a club that’s faced a number of them over the last three or so years.
“We know what it’s about as a group that’s been together,” head coach Greg Vanney said. “We’ve been in big games and had big experiences together. We know what the outcome has to be. We have to score at least two goals. I don’t need to convince the guys. We’ll set up to attack and play to win the game.”
“Chivas is ahead. It’s halftime,” added Michael Bradley. “We know what we have to do to be the ones lifting the trophy at the end of 90 minutes, and we’re going to go for it.”
TFC will have to go for it based on the team’s first leg performance. It began in complete disaster as Rodolfo Pizarro scored just two minutes in to give Chivas a valuable away goal. Jonathan Osorio’s first half equalizer seemed to turn the tide, but the mishandling of an Alan Pulido free kick seized a massive advantage for the Liga MX side.
The loss came down to a number of individual mistakes for TFC, and they’ll quite obviously need to limit those in Wednesday’s finale. Vanney says he doesn’t expect Chivas to implement any new tactical wrinkles. TFC has seen Chivas’ man-marking and physicality up close, and Vanney expects more of the same.
Knowing that, Wednesday’s match will come down to execution for a TFC team that will need to play at an entirely different level to have any hope of leaving Mexico with a trophy.
“It’s everything that we expected,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono. “Having played 90 minutes under it, it’s even more of what we expect now. Now that we’ve experienced it, we’re better prepared to go into the second leg.
“We come here knowing we have to win. That’s the mentality we would have had regardless of the first leg result. We’re going to come in here, try to put in a performance and win.”
They’ll face a Chivas team that will be even stronger than the one from last week. Goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota, centerback Jair Pereira and left back Edwin Hernandez all return from suspension, adding a number of starters back into the mix. However, recent protests do remain a factor, as Chivas’ players have recently begun speaking out against the club’s management.
TFC have no such off-the-field issues, but could once again be without Victor Vazquez. All of the team’s other big stars are expected to play, and players like Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco will need to be at their best to help lead the way.
Vanney called back to a 2016 playoff series against the Montreal Impact. TFC was down, 3-0, just 20 minutes in, but rallied to win a thrilling two-legged affair widely seen as one of the best in MLS history. They aren’t down quite as deep on Wednesday night, but they’ll need to create something similarly special.
“We have a group that draws on all of the big experiences we’ve had over the last few years,” Bradley said. “We’ve played finals. We’ve played two-legged series. We’ve been ahead, we’ve been behind. We’ve had to play on the edge. We’ve had to defend leads. We have big experience in moments like this. We’re going to step on the field and go for it.”