The clash of champions is now approaching very fast. It is a night that we have been waiting for since Day One, back in 2007. It is a game that will define Toronto FC as a club and shape its future ambitions.
TFC will host Liga MX champions Tigres UANL tonight, in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.
After our guide to Tigres’ offensive weapons, Waking the Red made sure to cover the Liga MX powerhouse for you as much as possible by speaking with FMF State of Mind’s Rafael Diaz in order to gain more knowledge about what our opponents look like and what we have to expect.
Waking the Red: What are Tigres’ main threats and in what way they can exploit Toronto FC?
Rafael Diaz: I’m sure you’ve heard this one before — Andre-Pierre Gignac. The Frenchman’s arrival to Mexico has more or less marked a before and after in Tigres history. While not as prolific as in the past seasons, Gignac continues to play a pivotal role in the way the Universitarios play their game.
This is the thing about Gignac. When you have Eduardo Vargas and Enner Valencia in your team, you don’t always have to be the focal point of the attack. Gignac, however, is still the one that sets everything in motion for Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti’s side. Vargas is a dangerous player on his own, but when you have Gignac taking away defenders, the Chilean international’s game between the lines becomes even more effective.
For Tigres, it can be as simple as using a combination of Gignac and Vargas to bypass the opponent’s pressing, spreading the ball out-wide, and sending a cross in for either of the three main attackers. That’s where the big problem is for Toronto FC. If Tigres manage to play this game at their own pace, Toronto’s defense is sure to be busy, and when you are not midseason form like your opponent, it can be hard to hold on for 90 minutes.”
WTR: Where can TFC harm Tigres?
RD: After suffering a thigh injury, Mexico international Javier Aquino only recently made his return to the Tigres bench on Sunday. Why is this important? Aquino’s play down the left wing usually serves the purpose of helping Gignac, Vargas, and Valencia accentuate themselves better in the final third. With Aquino unlikely to play a full 90 minutes, much of that task will fall on Tigres’s fullbacks. If Toronto can manage to get Tigres’s fullbacks to release the ball as soon as possible, this leaves very little time for Gignac and co. to settle offensively.
Of course, all of this matters very little if Tigres can still find a way to get the ball to Gignac and Vargas. That is why it will be important to find Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore in advanced positions up the field, especially the latter who might need to do a bit of extra running. Teams like Club America and Pumas UNAM have found some success against Tigres this season by gaining higher possession of the ball through long passes and then having their midfield press higher up. If Toronto can do that, they might manage just enough possession to have somebody like Giovinco produce a moment of brilliance.
WTR: Is it an advantage for Tigres to start away?
RD: Tigres don’t like closing a series away from home that’s for sure. That said, considering Tigres have a home game right after this one against Xolos de Tijuana, it is certainly not a problem. Tigres know a positive result in Toronto would put them in a good position to close out at home, where the Universitarios haven’t lost a game in 13 straight matches. Not to mention, they have one of the best atmospheres in all of North America.
WTR: You’ve seen TFC play — do you think TFC are closing the gap with some Liga MX teams through their signings and gameplay and also, are there any players from TFC’s roster who could make the starting XI with Tigres?
R: Toronto FC are an extraordinary team. To ignore how much they have improved in recent seasons would be foolish. Greg Vanney has done a great job since taking over, and while technically MLS as a whole still lags behind Liga MX, Vanney is just one of many young managers like Jesse Marsch and Caleb Porter (the now-former Portland Timbers manager) who are giving the league a distinct flavor of its own.
Obviously, the reality is the nuances of MLS puts its teams at an economic disadvantage compared to Mexican teams. Yes, teams like Toronto are making the best out of it and playing good football at the same time, and that deserves plenty of respect. Unfortunately for MLS fans, the same can’t be said about every team in the league. Toronto FC alone, though, is showing how you can reduce the gap and earn silverware in the process. They are one MLS team that would be a formidable opponent in Liga MX.
As per the players’ part, is easy to say Giovinco, but there is one player that I think would definitely make Tigres’s starting XI. That player is Michael Bradley. He is an intelligent player with good judgment on the ball. The kind of player Tigres could use after Guido Pizarro’s exit to Sevilla. Perhaps he would consider moving to Mexico like his old pal Landon Donovan?
Many thanks to Rafa for his thoughts. Follow him on Twitter: @rafarambles. Moreover, check out FMF State of Mind for more information about Mexican teams, both in Liga MX but also in the CONCACAF Champions League.