BMO Field seems to be the setting of a lot of happy endings of late. Last night saw more late drama propel the home side, Toronto FC, to a 2-1 victory over Tigres UANL in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. As if the scripting couldn’t get any better, the sensational winning goal was scored by hometown boy and fan favourite Jonathan Osorio.
The Reds came into the match as the underdogs to the defending Mexican champions, but by the full-time whistle looked like the alphas. After falling behind early in the second half they repeatedly attacked Tigres until they regained the upper hand. It was a memorable performance.
“This team is not a club to get intimidated now by anybody,” said Osorio after the match. “We are trying to build a reputation here of being the best and whatever game we go to we have to win and I thought we did that today.”
But as the ink dries on the latest chapter in Toronto FC’s fabled tale, it is worth remembering that it is only half written. The away goal they conceded still looms large, and they will head into the second leg in Mexico next week with history against them.
“It was good playing against a team like that, that tries to play, they made it tough for us,” said Jozy Altidore. “I thought in the second half we made it tough for them but this is only half time, there is still a lot to play for.”
If it wasn’t for Osorio coming to the last minute rescue, they would have gone into Estadio Universitario in terrible shape needing to score a goal while making sure Tigres didn’t do further damage. Osorio’s goal means they hold an advantage, but the Mexicans still might be the favourites to advance.
Tigres certainly feel that way given some of the comments made after the match. The data backs up their boldness. Since Toronto FC were last involved in the CCL in 2012-13, Liga MX teams have outscored MLS sides 33-7 in knockout games played in Mexico. None of them ended in losses for the hosts.
Toronto FC need only a tie to advance. But even that is a rare occurrence for MLS sides visiting Mexico, only happening three times in the last six years. The Montreal Impact were able to accomplish the feat twice en route to a CCL finals appearance in 2014-15. They were the only non-Mexican finalist in the last six tournaments.
One would assume that Tigres has a lot more to give under more favourable conditions at home as well. From the start they seemed to be very uncomfortable with the cold, and evidently had to deal with the BMO Field faithful for 90 minutes. Still, they were well-organized defensively and dangerous going forward.
“They are very good, very good offensively, they offer something different than what we are used to in the MLS,” said Osorio. “They have a lot of options and dangerous guys and something we need to be more attentive in defense. Obviously, they are one of the best in the continent.”
So, despite their advantage, the odds are still stacked against Toronto FC. This group, though, has shown a tendency to like to rewrite the history books. First MLS domestic treble winners, most points in a single season, would a big win on the road in Mexico really seem that out of place?
Last night was yet another reminder that Toronto FC weren’t like other MLS sides in the past. To be able to bring players like Victor Vazquez and Auro off the bench late in the game is a luxury that the top sides in the league have not had in the past. It made all the difference last night.
Toronto also has a more practical advantage. While Tigres must now travel back to Mexico to take on Club Tijuana on Saturday, Toronto FC does not have another game before leg 2 on Tuesday. That time will give them an opportunity to get injured players, like Vazquez, back to full health and get more valuable training sessions under their belt.
“There’s an advantage to being able to cover and having a couple of training sessions to prepare for a tough game,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. “But sometimes just staying in a rhythm of playing is an advantage as well, especially at this time of year.”
That’s another one of the many advantages Tigres still holds over Toronto FC. It’s why, while Toronto struck the first blow in this series, it was far from decisive. It may just wake up an even more threatening beast.