It is official. Toronto FC will finally get its opportunity to face a Mexican side in the CONCACAF Champions League and it could not get any better, as they will clash with the Liga MX champions Tigres.
Tigres, who eliminated Costa Rica’s Herediano last night, will be a litmus test for Greg Vanney’s clan, as the outcome of this double-legged tie will be an indicator of the quality discrepancy between Liga MX and MLS.
However, let’s focus on last night’s 0-0 draw, TFC’s ninth in their CCL history, on a decent BMO Field pitch, which — despite the frigid conditions — was far more presentable than in that famous D.C. United game, back in February 2014.
It was not the best of performances, as the Colorado Rapids went close to finding the base of the net on multiple occasions. With a better offensive personnel, they could have easily listed themselves on the scoresheet.
While the Canadian side’s main aim was to preserve the two-goal cushion ahead of Saturday’s MLS season opener and next week’s Tigres matchup, there were some individual errors which could have cost them qualification. On the other hand, there were glimpses of quality especially from the newly-signed pair Auro and Ager Aketxe.
In fact, Aketxe made his debut in the final 20 minutes, at a time where TFC looked revived as they were exerting their pressure all over the field in an attempt to wrap up qualification.
TFC survives scare
Greg Vanney opted to deploy the same starting eleven which emerged victorious last week in Denver, the 4-4-2 diamond shape with Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore up front supported by Victor Vazquez in his usual no. 10 role.
Skipper Michael Bradley marshalled the backline from his defensive midfield role, as he constantly retreated back to split the central defenders in order to dictate the play.
Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado flanked him. Osorio had another positive performance, where once again he showed his ability in joining the offensive line without disrupting the tempo of the play. His technique and awareness of the game makes him one of the most clever minds in MLS.
On the other hand, Delgado had a lacklustre display, as most of the Rapids threats were possible due to his inability to stop their passes between the lines, or else not marking his opponent before receiving the ball, thus leaving plenty of room to the Rapids players to run in between spaces and advance into the eighteen.
At the back, Alex Bono was in charge of the goal. In front of him, Vanney deployed a four-man backline with Drew Moor and Nick Hagglund, who was given the nod over Chris Mavinga, forming the central pair while Auro and Justin Morrow were the outside backs.
Most likely, the aim of this formation was to give the players match repetition and more gameplay prior to next Saturday’s MLS opener with the Columbus Crew.
The first 45 minutes were somewhat disappointing. The ball circulation from the home side was very slow, even though Anthony Hudson’s men were pressing high with Jack McBean constantly harassing Moor and Hagglund. In fact, in order to move the ball faster, Osorio and Vazquez were constantly leaning back to receive it in the middle of the field.
On the other hand, this situation underlined the technical superiority that TFC boast in their roster because when you boast smart minds like Vazquez in your roster, such maneuvers are possible.
Well, turns out Victor Vazquez is still a magician. pic.twitter.com/3IKw1shjty— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) February 28, 2018
Throughout the first half, Moor and Hagglund were not so sharp in their marking as while the latter pocketed McBean most of the time, Dominique Badji was still hovering freely around the edge of the area. It is no coincidence that the majority of the threats dropped on Badji’s feet, including the 41st-minute chance where he rattled the post with a long-range shot.
To the contrary, Brazilian outside back Auro put on another display of athleticism and finesse as he owned the right flank for all 90 minutes. I am sure that at one point, Auro will be roped in as an offensive player, maybe as a right winger in a 4-4-2 or as a right central midfielder in a 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 shape with the warrant of hovering next to Vazquez, especially when Gregory van der Wiel will start from the first minute.
Auro’s ability to link passes with TFC’s main stars resembles Dani Alves’ main feature at Barcelona — exchanging passes with Lionel Messi before either assisting or concluding with a shot himself.
After the change of ends, Vanney did not replace anyone in order to make sure that they would have control over their qualification cause.
Hudson’s team continued to pile pressure over the home side with Bono forced to produce a couple of game-saving stops to deny the Rapids any chance of putting one behind him.
As time went by, their tempo started to decline and TFC started to take over. The game changer was the introduction of former Athletic Bilbao midfielder Aketxe. As soon as he put foot on the turf, amid the ovation of the home crowd, he was immediately looking for the ball and he also tried his luck from range, even though without luck.
in minute 79, he justified his acquisition when from a tight angle he managed to spot Giovinco behind the defensive line and slid a through ball in between the spaces, even though the Atomic Ant was ruled offside.
In the closing stages of the game, Vanney roped in Mavinga as well. His presence was greeted with relief, given that next week Tigres’ probable offensive line will be formed by Enner Valencia, Eduardo Vargas and France international Andre-Pierre Gignac. TFC need Mavinga’s situational awareness, physique and commanding presence.
Finally, some other positive outcomes from this game were that no one was cautioned, therefore our enterprising midfielder Bradley will be available for the first leg at BMO Field.
Moreover, Dutch fullback Gregory van der Wiel should be in the roster ahead of next week’s mouth-watering clash with the Liga MX champions. The former PSG and Cagliari defender was given extra rest due to the birth of his first child, and while we congratulate him and his girlfriend, we are eager to see him don TFC’s kit for the first time — and what a stage to do so, against the Mexican champions at BMO Field.
Osorio on Herdman’s mind
In the meantime, Canada men’s national team’s newly-appointed coach John Herdman spoke to TSN on their half-time show and underlined the importance of a player like Osorio in his roster.
Asked about whether the Ontario native will be given more playing time under his reign, Herdman said that he just needs to keep doing what he is putting on display right now, as he has improved as a player.
“Jonathan (Osorio) has developed into a more mature player,” said Herdman on TV. “Especially in his decision-making in the final third of the field from which TFC benefited a lot last season.”