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PREVIEW | Toronto FC look to replicate last week’s performance against Club León

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The Reds travel back ‘home’ looking to advance in the Concacaf Champions League.

Leon v Toronto - Concacaf Champions League 2021
Toronto FC have all to play for after securing the crucial away goal last week in Mexico.
Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images

TORONTO, Canada—Toronto FC’s gutsy 1-1 draw vs. Club León provided the Reds with a crucial away goal heading into the second leg at Osceola Heritage Park in Florida and has set the stage for Wednesday’s clash against the Liga MX giants with all to play for.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 pm EST and can be streamed on OneSoccer.

The Chris Armas era at Toronto FC started brightly last week. It was clear right from the jump how the Reds would play under their new head coach, and it was clear that every player on the roster appeared to have bought into a new system.

Implementing a new system is never easy, but to do so while the club had to abruptly halt their preseason preparations due to a COVID-19 outbreak, and then prepare for a move down to Florida—where the team is going to be playing their home matches for at least part of the year–is not an easy feat. Armas and his coaching staff should be commended for getting the team ready in the manner that they did.

Last week’s draw was all the more impressive given the numerous challenges that the club has faced in preparing for this season and the number of key players that were unavailable through injuries. The reigning MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo, midfielder Jonathan Osorio, and defender Chris Mavinga were just three of the 10 (!) players that were unavailable last week.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s match, TFC head coach Chris Armas provided an injury update, and while the Reds may be getting back some players, it’s increasingly likely that Armas will be without the services of Pozuelo once again. The head coach was a bit more optimistic about some of his other senior players, including striker Jozy Altidore who left last week’s match with a leg injury.

The potential return of Jonathan Osorio who Armas has categorized as “day-to-day” along with Altidore could prove to be a big boost for the Reds.

In the absence of the aforementioned key players, Armas had to rely on a lot of youngsters last week and the youngsters made a great case for the “play your kids” camp. Albeit out of necessity, the way many of the youngsters stepped up to the challenge against Club León showed TFC fans the depth that the club has, and speaking post-match, Armas once again reiterated how young players are very much a part of his plan.

“Bill Manning and Ali Curtis have done a really nice job bringing young players along and I’ve said that I’m going to play young players—look how many played tonight. It’s a testament to the club and the leadership...”

One of TFC’s veterans, Omar Gonzalez echoed the coach’s sentiment post-match as well.

“Our young guys – Noble (Okello), Luke Singh who debuted tonight, (Jacob) Shaffelburg, Erickson (Gallardo), these guys didn’t get a lot of minutes last year and here they are playing in the first game, in a very important game for us. I’m just very proud of those guys,” Gonzalez said. “They’re growing more and more, they’re stepping up and as a team you need to have everyone step up and tonight they did that. I’m very happy for them and now we need to do it again next week.”

With a busy week for the club, the Reds cancelled their preseason friendly with Inter Miami on Sunday due to scheduling conflicts. The second leg against Club León and the MLS season opener just three days after that, against the Montreal Impact, means Armas will rely on his younger players once again. Given last week’s performance, the Reds head coach will not be hesitant to play his youngsters and he’s stated his intentions to do just that.

León, meanwhile, have averaged just over a goal a game so far this season, with Ecuadorian winger Ángel Mena leading the way with five league goals to his name, including the winner against Toluca last weekend.

The Reds will catch a break however as Costa Rican International and former Arsenal forward Joel Campbell, looks to be unavailable due to the United States’ quarantine policy. Campbell was a threat all night in leg one and created all sorts of problems for Armas’ side.

This will be the second meeting in history between TFC and León, with last Wednesday’s encounter being the first time these two sides met, but based on Toronto’s record against Mexican teams, Armas’ men will need to flip the script if they are to overcome their upcoming opponent.

In 16 competitive matches against Mexican opposition, TFC has only won three of them. León has never played against a Canadian side before, but their only tie against an MLS team ended in a 3-2 defeat on aggregate to LAFC in last season’s Round of 16.

Wednesday is still going to require another gritty performance from the club if they are to advance. A win against Club León could set the table for the opening part of the season. It would be a huge confidence boost should the Reds advance and would be an impressive first hurdle jumped for the club’s new head coach.


HOW TO WATCH

Who: Club León vs. Toronto FC
When: Wednesday, April 14, 6:00 PM ET
Where: Osceola Heritage Park, Florida
Streaming: OneSoccer