Published On: Wed, Apr 18th, 2018

More of the same: TFC confident it has winning formula for 2nd leg

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TORONTO – Several times prior to Tuesday’s first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final, Greg Vanney proudly noted that his Toronto FC side had learned to win in many different ways under his tutelage.

“We can win on the counter. We can win with possession. We can win a set-piece game. We have lots of different ways we’re capable of getting results,” he told Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated.

Considering how Chivas de Guadalajara set up in its second meeting with the New York Red Bulls in the semifinals – sitting deep and soaking up pressure in New Jersey – there’s a distinct possibility that the Mexican giant will cede possession to the visitor next week in Zapopan. A familiar gameplan for Toronto FC to deal with then, but with the wholly unfamiliar context of having to overturn a 2-1 deficit at the home of a Liga MX club. Interestingly, this predicament will still not necessarily prompt a rethink from TFC.

Related: Chivas dumps Toronto FC for crucial 1st-leg advantage

TFC knows what to expect – at least after a start where the host upset the script and froze in the cold conditions, letting Rodolfo Pizarro convert just two minutes in.

“The start was far from ideal, but the response was very, very good in terms of going after them, in terms of being aggressive, in terms of still playing through things, creating chances. This stuff was all really good,” Michael Bradley reflected after the match. “We couldn’t quite put the final play together on enough occasions tonight. That’s the biggest thing.”

The response wasn’t immediate. For 10 or so minutes the play was scrappy from Vanney’s outfit, but a numerical advantage was gained when a reshuffle into a shape resembling a 4-4-2 allowed Auro to move up the pitch and cause trouble down the right. The man-to-man system that is strictly adhered to by Chivas was scrambled; suddenly, Toronto FC had uncovered a weakness in Chivas’ stubborn rearguard.

When Jonathan Osorio struck to record a goal in each round of this competition, it ended a run of 300 minutes without Chivas letting in a goal. Osorio’s equalizer should’ve been followed by more.

“They’ll chase guys all over the field,” Vanney explained. “I thought that there was a stretch of the game where I wish we would’ve done more with it, where they really had no idea who was supposed to be picking up who, and we gained a little bit of an advantage in certain areas of the field.”

The Reds ended the half in the ascendancy, with intricate flicks in and around the penalty area causing attacking overloads and threatening to dizzy Carlos Salcido, the 38-year-old called in amid Chivas’ defensive crisis, apparently weeks before he hangs up his boots. Jozy Altidore was denied twice by backup goalkeeper Miguel Jimenez after backheels from Osorio and Sebastian Giovinco, respectively.

Either side of the interval, Toronto FC’s possession jumped up from 43.4 percent to 63.7 percent, and Drew Moor became more influential at the back. It was different from his colossal showing at Club America in the previous round – that heroic, battle-hardened stream of blocks and challenges – and instead one of an attack-conscious defender. He made a game-high 84 touches, and even had a rare surge through the space to send an effort wide via a deflection.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

“They’re a different team. They’re different than both Tigres and America, they’re very man orientated, very physical, they’ll follow guys all over the field which opens it up a lot,” Moor said.

The veteran defender doesn’t believe there needs to be significant tweaks to the schematic going into the second leg while chances are being created, stating that if he and his teammates can “raise our game 10 percent, 15 percent” there is clear chance of making history in Mexico next week.

“We’ll look to continue to do that and maybe just bring a little bit more quality out of each other and see if we can build off of it and how we can maybe break them down a little bit better in the second leg,” he continued.

Alex Bono took responsibility for Chivas’ second, appearing to misjudge the flight of the ball when Alan Pulido struck a free-kick. It was a disappointing blip for a goalkeeper that has been otherwise outstanding for the BMO Field lot during this run, but it doesn’t distract from the team’s focus whatsoever.

“We’ll watch this game back to see if there’s other things we can do to give ourselves more of an edge, but this is the game against them. They’re going to be aggressive, but they’re going to be aggressive in a very man-to-man way,” Bradley assessed. “If you can move quickly, if you can play forward, if you can move on the other side of things then there’s space – they get pulled around, they get dragged around, and I like our chances.”

Toronto FC may be strengthened next Wednesday as well. Justin Morrow was introduced from the bench following his recent travails with injury, and Vanney insists that Chris Mavinga‘s withdrawal before the second half commenced was just due to a minor cramp. Both seem to be in contention for the reverse fixture, along with Altidore, who was seen to be suffering with a stomach bug picked up during the previous trip to Mexico and that has upset a few members of the squad. News on Victor Vazquez‘s return from the treatment room is lacking.

Maybe it’s these bolstered ranks, in tandem with Toronto FC’s stubbornness and confidence in how to deal with Chivas’ man-to-man approach, that has the opposition’s manager wary going into the conclusion of this continental skirmish. Toronto FC is in a hole, but it has the tools to dig itself out.

“There are still 90 minutes left in this game,” coach Matias Almeyda said with the help of a translator. “The result is still open.”

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