Published On: Tue, Apr 17th, 2018

Final hurdle: 3 things TFC must do to take down Chivas, make CCL history

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One last opponent stands between Toronto FC and the CONCACAF Champions League title: Chivas Guadalajara. The Mexican outfit has already defeated the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders en route to the final, and now faces the Reds in this last home-and-away tie.

Greg Vanney’s history-making, treble-toting Toronto team has already brushed aside two of Mexico’s fiercest challengers in Club America and Tigres UANL, and now chases history as it seeks to become the first MLS club to win the tournament.

With the first leg at BMO Field on Tuesday, here are three things Toronto FC must do in order to reach that summit:

Exploit weakened backline


The Reds’ ability to hold off Club America’s and Tigres’ oft-overwhelming attacks was a testament to their collective defensive strength, but it will take a new tactical approach to break down a steadfast Chivas backline that has allowed just one goal in six Champions League tilts.

A lot of that credit goes to center-back Oswaldo Alanis, but luckily for Toronto, three of the Goats’ usual starters – goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota, left-back Edwin Hernandez, and captain and center-back Jair Pereira – are suspended for the first leg, giving Vanney’s side a chance at earning a healthy lead at home (in the snow, which might also help).

Their absences should make life a little easier for Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and Co., though the Reds will still need to be mindful of a Chivas offense – spearheaded by the wiley Rodolfo Pizarro, who is hungry for a spot in Mexico‘s World Cup roster – that has scored 11 times in the tournament.

Vanney will also hope key starters Justin Morrow, Chris Mavinga, and Victor Vazquez are ready to return from injury. Fielding a full-strength starting XI would go a long way, considering Chivas is unlikely to be as porous at the back as Toronto’s last two foes.

Counter humility with efficiency


Club America manager Miguel Herrera and Tigres boss Ricardo Ferretti both made the mistake of publicly dismissing the quality of both Toronto FC and MLS, and paid the price for that arrogance. In the buildup to the final, Chivas coach Matias Almeyda chose to go the opposite route.

“I think the two best teams have gotten into the final,” Almeyda said, as quoted by ESPN FC’s Jeff Carlisle. “They (Toronto) have a style, a marked style, and one of the formulas they have is how they go back and close spaces.

“They are confident in the people they have, a very dynamic team, very complete team that plays very well with a (clear) identity, which is not that easy to have in a team. So they have all our respect.”

If Toronto FC was inspired to humble its last two opponents, there won’t be any bulletin board material ahead of the final. While captain Michael Bradley has been exemplary in setting the right tone for each match, earning the respect of your opponent and making sure the job is completed requires a different set of objectives and focuses – chiefly, ensuring Toronto doesn’t yield control of the match.

The Reds can’t enter this tie thinking themselves to be favorites despite Chivas currently occupying 16th place in the Liga MX standings. Toronto must seize the initiative and dictate the tempo of the first leg with the utmost urgency.

Beware the weight of history


While the overarching story line in the semi-finals was one of proving MLS’ credibility against Liga MX sides, the media narrative this time centers around Toronto FC’s place in North American footballing lore, as the Reds chase one final trophy to cap off an incredible era in club and league history.

Four thousand kilometers separate the cities of Toronto and Guadalajara, though the teams share a bit of history: Vanney and his assistant coach Robin Fraser once worked side by side as coaches of Chivas USA, the Mexican side’s failed MLS counterpart. Fitting, then, that the two could make Champions League history against a familiar club.

But Toronto FC must be mindful of the weight of history.

Just as the Reds learned what an MLS Cup final looks and feels like in their 2016 failures – only to finally win it one year later – Vanney and his charges must not buckle under the pressure of this current venture and remember past lessons.

Chivas has a lot of pride on the line – the fiercely traditional outfit only fields Mexican players, and you can bet they’ll work their hardest to ensure the balance of power remains firmly in their nation’s favor.

So, while it may feel like the weight of Major League Soccer’s pride rests on their shoulders, Bradley and his teammates must not lose sight of their first (and, perhaps, only) priority – do it for Toronto.

Everything else comes later.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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