THAT'S IT! The referee blows his whistle, and the game is over. What an incredibly gutsy performance from Toronto FC to hold off wave after wave of vicious Club América attackers. The last-minute penalty was kind of ridiculous, taking away the win TFC really wanted in Mexico, but nonetheless they're on to the Concacaf Champions League final to play Chivas Guadalajara.
This is insane. Absolutely crazy. The Reds just stifled a team with a 101-year history at one of the most historic stadiums in the world. They stopped them from scoring a single open play goal.
TFC will open the final next week against Chivas, we'll try to confirm when exactly as soon as we can.
We can lament the injuries in the coming days. But in the meantime, drink it up TFC fans. We're going to the final.
91' Club América 1-1 Toronto FC — Penalty to América as Michael Bradley comes through the back of an attacking player. Andres Uribe puts it into the bottom right corner to equalize the game, but his side has hardly any time to score two goals. This one is over.
87' — How did he miss that?! Nico Hasler had one on a plate pretty much unmarked, but he put it over the bar with the keeper Marchesin rushing him fast. We remain at 1-1.
81' — Greg Vanney uses his last substitution of the game, bringing Jordan Hamilton on for Tosaint Ricketts. Also, Drew Moor picks up a yellow card for a rough standing challenge on Bruno Valdez.
60' — We're at the hour mark now, and the second half has been pretty uneventful so far. Referee Ravshan Irmatov has a strong grip on this game.
Also, Auro had a green laser pointer shined in his eye during a throw-in. Tick that one off.
46' — A flurry of substitutions at the half. Nicolas Hasler comes on for Gregory van der Wiel, which is fairly concerning. Looks like the Reds might be moving to four at the back, as well. SAmérica bring on youngsters Alex Díaz and Diego Lainez for Henry Martin and William Da Silva.
HT — The Reds make it into halftime unscathed, despite a few very nervy moments. Alex Bono is surely the hero of that first half, despite Jonathan Osorio's goal. The keeper has truly kept TFC in it.
Also, shoutout to the referee from Uzbekistan. He's done a phenomenal job so far, especially as the América players begin to up the antics a little bit. He may have missed a Valdez elbow on Bono, but other than that zero complaints.
28' — Alex Bono makes one of the best reaction saves I've ever seen a Toronto FC keeper make to keep it at 1-0.
20’ — HUGE break for the Reds as Eriq Zavaleta heads one into his own goal, but the assistant referee rules it offside. Zavaleta gets a reprieve, and it'll stay 1-0.
12’ Toronto FC 1-0 Club América — GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! Jonathan Osorio has given the Reds an away goal, it is 4-1 on aggregate! Holy crap! Tosaint Ricketts lays off a beautiful chipped pass from Seba and Oso smashes it home.
It's not the prettiest but it could prove to be one of the biggest goals in TFC's history. pic.twitter.com/bpxBQsip2q— Mitchell Tierney (@mitchelltierney) April 11, 2018
6’ — Nightmare here as Jozy Altidore goes down with what looks like a muscular injury. Referee immediately signaled for a substitute, doesn’t look like he’ll be continuing. Tosaint Ricketts comes in to replace him.
0’ — We’re off! It’s rainy, it’s miserable, but we are kicking off on time.
Looks like we’re going off without a hitch. https://t.co/k0vvqf8rOc— Ben Baer (@BenBaer89) April 11, 2018
I was unable to sleep last night, and not because I drank a pot of coffee at 8 p.m. in order to power through an essay (okay maybe because of that actually). Still, the anticipation before Toronto FC’s first ever appearance at the Estadio freakin’ Azteca is palpable.
As has been drilled into everyone’s heads, TFC’s 3-1 aggregate lead does not necessarily make them safe in this Concacaf Champions League semifinal against Club América. If they want to advance to the final, they’ll probably need an away goal, especially because it’s very hard to imagine any scenario in which América don’t score.
Just for clarity’s sake, here’s a visual representation of all the most plausible scenarios, and who would advance from each.
As you can see, TFC would advance with any win or draw, and any one-goal loss. It gets a little hairier if they lose by two; a 2-0 América win would put the home side through, a 3-1 win for América would give us penalties, and any other two-goal win would put TFC into the final.
It seems the past four games in this competition have all been the biggest in TFC history. This is no exception; a result at the Azteca would leave an impact that Mexican soccer fans wouldn’t soon forget. América are an extremely historic club, founded all the way back in 1916; that gives them a 91-year age gap over Toronto FC.
It will be incredibly difficult for TFC to slay this particular dragon. Both teams are dealing with some heavy injuries; TFC could be without such important pieces as Victor Vazquez, Chris Mavinga and Justin Morrow. América will be missing key midfielder Cecilio Domínguez after he came off injuring during their 1-1 draw against Necaxa on the weekend.
The altitude and the atmosphere will also be brutal. The Azteca sits 7,280 feet above sea level, quite a bit higher than Toronto’s 249. To compare with TFC’s last two away dates in the CCL, Monterrey’s elevation is 1,770 feet, and Denver is 5,280 above sea level (a full 2,000 lower than Mexico City).
The Reds have been training in Pachuca for a few days though, which is even higher than Mexico City, and they’ve been working out with oxygen masks for weeks. They know the altitude is a factor, and they’re probably as well-prepared for it as they possibly could be.
I’m not sure just how full the Azteca will be tonight, but it sounds like the home side are trying to fill as many seats as they can by slashing ticket prices. The cheapest seats on Ticketmaster right now are going for just under $7 CAD. From playing around with it a little bit, the only place I was able to find five tickets (the maximum allowed) in a row was in the sixth level. There are over 100 left on Stubhub, though.
I’d expect a pretty decent crowd, likely more than there would’ve been if TFC hadn’t won (and hurt their pride a little bit) last week. The media storm around Miguel Herrera has certainly helped drum up interest as well. The Reds also have quite a bit more star power than the 2015 Montreal Impact.
TFC have made it pretty clear over the past few days that they plan to take the game to América, and not just sit back. I’d expect to see the 3-5-2 again, even though they were seen training in a 4-4-2 the other day. That’s because they probably don’t expect to have the majority of possession, and so will need to be solid defensively with a counter-attacking threat in their back pockets.
Refereeing may also be a factor; this game is going to be staffed by Ravshan Irmatov, an Asian Football Confederation referee from Uzbekistan. He has a strong pedigree, working at the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups (he oversaw Gregory van der Wiel’s Netherlands side in their 2010 semifinal against Uruguay). He’s been AFC referee of the year five times since 2006.
So, it may be just a little less Concacafy than usual.
How are you feeling? TFC have shown time and again how capable they are of bringing their best into the biggest games. Hopefully this time is no different, although they will never have faced a threat quite like this.
If they lose, well, it’s still been an incredible run, and they’ll have given Mexico something to think about. But if they win? Then they’re history, and América won’t forget it.
Team news: injuries & suspensions
Toronto FC: Justin Morrow and Victor Vazquez remain questionable with their injuries, although of the two I’d say Vazquez might be the more likely to be involved. Chris Mavinga and Nick Hagglund have been pretty much ruled out, though, as it seems both have long-term injuries that need to be addressed.
The Reds have some big names at risk of suspension. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco, and Jonathan Osorio would all miss the first leg of the final if TFC were to advance and if they were to get booked again.
Club América: The home team will still face the major injuries they had last week, with Frenchman Jérémy Ménez still out. They’re also going to be missing Cecilio Domínguez, which is a huge loss for them.
They went into last game with a ton of yellow cards, and received a few more, but still nobody has been suspended. At risk of missing the next game: Emanuel Aguilera, Carlos Vargas, Paul Aguilar, Alejandro Diaz, Mateus Uribe, and Guido Rodríguez.
Predicting Toronto FC’s lineup against Club América (Leg 2) (Benedict Rhodes)
Toronto FC have been preparing for the Azteca all year (Mitchell Tierney)
Toronto FC have history against them at the Estadio Azteca (Charlie O’Connor-Clarke)
Gregory van der Wiel’s ability on full display against Club América (Charlie O’Connor-Clarke)
Also, don’t forget to get your picks in before kickoff for the Prediction League! Bonus points on the line this week!
How to watch
Match date/time: 10 p.m. EST, Tuesday, April 10
TV: TSN 1 & 4 (Canada), RDS 2 (en français), Fox Sports Cono Norte (Mexico), Univision Deportes (USA)
Live stream: TSN Go (Canada), go90.com
Radio: TSN 1050 (Toronto)