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Shorthanded Toronto FC have to overcome a mountain in second leg tie vs. Cruz Azul

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Without Pozuelo and Soteldo, Toronto FC will have to score at least three Tuesday night to give themselves a shot at moving on to the CCL semifinals.

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Cruz Azul at Toronto FC
Cruz Azul midfielder Yoshimar Yotun (19) and midfielder Ignacio Rivero (15) celebrate after defeating Toronto FC at Raymond James Stadium.
(Vinlove/USA TODAY)

TORONTO, Canada—Toronto FC will need nothing short of a miracle to overcome Cruz Azul in their second leg match Tuesday night, as the two sides will once again go head-to-head, this time down in Mexico City at the famous Estadio Azteca with the Reds trailing 3-1 on aggregate.

Chris Armas’ side will have to pull off this massive upset over the league-leaders in Mexico without the services of two of their designated players and focal points of their attack: Yeferson Soteldo and Alejandro Pozuelo.

Soteldo is still in Florida undergoing quarantine protocol after arriving last week from Brazil. Armas is hopeful that the Venezuelan international will be available to make his TFC debut this weekend vs. New York Red Bulls. Pozuelo, meanwhile, is still recovering from a thigh injury sustained in the team’s final preseason match April 1 vs Columbus Crew SC.

While Pozuelo is close to returning according Armas last week, he still is not 100 per cent, and the reigning MVP’s absence will once again be a huge obstacle the team needs to navigate past, especially considering Toronto need to score at least three goals if they want to secure their spot in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

The positive news on the injury front is that centre-back Chris Mavinga is expected to return to the Toronto FC starting XI after missing the first five matches of the year with a left calf injury, while Richie Laryea also makes his return to the Toronto FC side after missing the opening leg as a result of a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.

Up three away goals, Cruz Azul are unbeaten in their last 18 matches (15-0-3) in all competitions heading into this one, meaning the Reds are going to need all the help that they can get.

Despite the odds stacked heavily against the visitors, veteran midfielder Jonathan Osorio isn’t losing hope just yet.

“There will be chances there for us,” Osorio told media on Monday. “We believe in our team and that we’re not out of this tie. Anything can happen in football.”

The objective for the Reds Tuesday night will be simple: score at least three goals.

“We have to score three, so to score early is important, but if it doesn’t come, I don’t think we have to panic,” said Osorio. “If they score it doesn’t really change much for us. ... The start of the game is going to be important to set the tone for the rest of the match. We’re going there to score three goals, we have 90 minutes to do it.”

The last time Toronto FC played at the famous Azteca stadium, they found some success, gaining a 1-1 draw there with Club América in the CCL semifinals in 2018, winning that series 4-2 on aggregate. The goal scorer that night? Of course, Osorio, who has found the back of the net in each of the Reds last two contests after missing the start of the season with a thigh injury.

Another reason for a sliver of hope from the Reds is Cruz Azul’s ‘curse,’ which has seen them struggle to close out second leg ties. Most recently, in December 2020, the Mexican side carried a 4-0 lead on aggregate into the 2020 Liga MX semifinals against Pumas, but were ultimately ousted of the competition after conceding four of their own in the return leg.

Kickoff Tuesday night is at 10:15 pm ET and you can catch the match on OneSoccer.