As far as starts to a season go, it really doesn’t get much more difficult than playing against the defending Liga MX champions in an elimination game. The same can be said of managerial debuts, as for the first time ever Chris Armas will be at the helm as Toronto FC step onto the pitch of Leon Stadium.
It is undoubtedly the toughest first match a Toronto FC manager has ever faced. The Reds have not played a competitive fixture since November 24, saw the Canadian Championship get cancelled, will have to deal with the Leon altitude, and had a Covid outbreak in their training camp.
That is just a sampling of reasons that make TFC a significant underdog going into both tomorrow’s match and this series with Club Leon as a whole. The first leg especially in this round might just be about limiting the damage that this very dangerous Leon side can inflict.
But it isn’t all bad news; the crazy pandemic reality scenario in which Toronto FC play this match does present them with a least a few advantages. Here are some factors that could give the reds an edge.
Nobody knows how Toronto FC are going to play, including Leon
Toronto FC have played two games so far under Chris Armas. Both of them have been exhibition matches, and the most tape publicly available on those games are cell phone videos from Toronto FC social media manager Eric Giacometti.
What the videos didn’t really show is just about anything else. Who is going to take to the field for Toronto FC? What shape will those players line up in? Will they counterattack, press high, play a possession game? Leon’s guess is as good as ours.
In previous campaigns under Greg Vanney, even when he did make tactical tweaks, the framework under which he made them was pretty similar and opposing managers would have plenty of tape on what he was likely to roll out. While guys like Michael Bradley,
Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore can all reasonably be expected to start tomorrow, where and how they will be deployed remains a mystery.
Club Leon, on the other hand, tend to play a pretty consistent possession-based style regardless of the opponent or situation. The only people that really know how TFC will play are within the walls of their camp, and that mystery is probably the biggest advantage the reds have going into the match.
Less travel, more times for activities
This might be a bigger advantage for Toronto should they somehow end up getting past Club Leon, but their pandemic reality has allowed for significantly less travel than this start to the season would usually entail.
Of Toronto FC’s first four matches in all competitions, three will be played in Florida with the other being tomorrow night in Leon. That isn’t anywhere close to the incredible mileage that they put on during the 2018 Concacaf Champions League run. They are also significantly closer to Mexico while based out of Florida than they would be in Toronto.
Also, should Inter Miami’s Covid situation improve in time, the Red have a friendly match planned against the local side to build fitness in between legs against Club Leon. This sort of thing, again, would not have been possible if they were based out of Canada.
Won’t have to deal with the usual away atmosphere
In the past few years, Toronto FC has entered the lion’s dens in El Volcan, Estadio Azteca and Estadio Akron. Needless to say, they won’t experience anything like that this campaign.
Club Leon did let fans back into their stadium for this past weekend’s fixture against Toluca and are expecting around 30 per cent capacity for the Champions League fixture. But that sort of atmosphere won’t be anything new or intimidating for a seasoned side like TFC.
Evidently, this one goes both ways as Club Leon won’t have to deal with the incredible Concacaf atmospheres BMO Field has had in recent years. Nor will they have to deal with inclimate weather, although that doesn’t look like it would have been a factor this year anyway.
With that being said, on record and history alone is pretty clear that Liga MX sides traditionally tend to have a bigger home-field advantage than MLS sides. In that sense, it is also positive that Toronto will get to play at “home” during the second leg.
Their Concacaf Experience
The last time Toronto FC played an opening match in the Concacaf Champions League, back in 2019, they did so with Terrence Boyd as a striker and Justin Morrow and Griffin Dorsey playing as wingers.
There promises to be a lot more Concacaf experience available to the squad this time. Micheal Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Eriq Zavaleta, Chris Mavinga and Marky Delgado all appear to be healthy while Justin Morrow probably isn’t going to be playing as a winger any time soon. Jonathan Osorio remains a question mark but would be a big boost if available knowing what he has done in this competition in the past.
Add to that group the talent of players like
Alejandro Pozuelo and Richie Laryea, not to mention Omar Gonzalez who let's no forget played for both Pachuca and Atlas for a number of years, and no Major League Soccer side can boast better CCL experience than the reds.