To start with, let’s show a couple of tweets to underline the magnitude of this success.
Toronto FC is the first @MLS team to eliminate two Mexican teams in home-and-home series in a single CONCACAF Cup.— Paul Carr (@PaulCarrTM) April 11, 2018
For yet another week, I am here writing about another monumental date in the history of the club.
Toronto FC engraved their first ever chapter on the Estadio Azteca turf — the same turf where Pelé won his third and last World Cup and Diego Maradona scored one of the best ever World Cup goals — with a 1-1 draw against Club America, which earned them a spot in the Concacaf Champions League final.
TFC will be up against Chivas Guadalajara, with the first leg to be played next week at BMO Field.
So it's @TorontoFC versus @Chivas in the #SCCL2018 final, with the winner over two legs gaining a spot at the #ClubWC in the UAE later this year!— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) April 11, 2018
1st leg, 17 April: TFC v CDG
2nd leg, 25 April: CDG v TFC
More info. READ https://t.co/ZeFrArLcfu pic.twitter.com/qkYRb27ivM
TFC’s remarkable journey
Given last year’s domestic success, both on Canadian soil and in MLS, and this year’s eliminations of two high-profile clubs like Tigres and Club America, Toronto will go the final as the favourites.
But how did TFC manage to reach such heights?
Winning breeds winning and Greg Vanney has developed that mentality in his roster throughout in the past few years at the helm of the club, reaching his peak last season...at least at the domestic level.
The TFC tactician is aware that his team boasts enough quality to lift the coveted championship, hence his calmness and lucidity when it comes to dealing with important absences, most notably Nick Hagglund, Victor Vazquez and Chris Mavinga.
For the second leg, he did not change his winning horse and fielded his team in 3-5-2 shape.
Gregory van der Wiel was deployed as a central defender for the third straight time alongside Drew Moor and Eriq Zavaleta. They were the only centre-backs available for Vanney, so one hopes that Mavinga manages to recover ahead of next week’s final in order to provide some depth in that role.
Academy product Ashtone Morgan extended his streak of starting games on the left flank while Auro Jr. was given the task as a right wingback.
Speaking of Morgan, he is one of the certificates of the work and effort put in by Vanney to raise the level of competitiveness of his side. Who would have thought prior this season, that one of the most influential figures in the CCL campaign was going to be a player whose last match as a starter was way back in 2015.
Fielding such a player in the same team alongside the likes of the talented Auro and the experienced vdW helped Morgan to develop his game, especially his offensive abilities. On Tuesday, Morgan registered two tackles, three interceptions, two clearances and five recoveries and was essential in neutralizing several América’s threats.
Up front Jozy Altidore (who left in the sixth minute) started with Sebastian Giovinco, and Michael Bradley started in his usual defensive midfielder role flanked by Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio, author of another inspiring performance.
Vanney has to be careful what players he deploys this coming Saturday when they take on the Colorado Rapids. Moor, Bradley, Altidore, Giovinco and Osorio also all have to be careful not get cautioned next week, because that would automatically see them skip the second leg due to yellow card accumulation.
The first minutes of the game were marked as the most important. It was the stage where the hosts were expected to start the match with all guns blazing in an attempt to put huge pressure on TFC’s backline and force them to err.
Nonetheless, the Canadian side was very smart in soaking up the pressure without disorganizing themselves, despite letting possession go cheaply.
Things looked bad when Altidore had to be subbed off due to an injury after just six minutes. Vanney opted to replace him with another striker, Tosaint Ricketts. But at this point, TFC’s offensive plans had to be changed because the Canadian striker has a completely different repertoire than the US player.
Still, Ricketts justified his introduction as he was involved in TFC’s goal, which started from a splendid build-up
JONATHAN OSORIO!!!! #TFC get a massive away goal on a beautiful buildup to slice through the #ClubAmerica defense!! 1-0 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate. #TFCLive #AMEvTOR #CCL #SCCL2018 #CCLFever pic.twitter.com/ctjjxmWsTC— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) April 11, 2018
Auro notched the ball towards Delgado before the latter found Giovinco, who inched his way back few metres, pulling two defenders at once and with a touch of class he found an unmarked Ricketts, and the ball dropped on Osorio’s feet for 1-0.
It was an impressive goal which put light on TFC’s quality when it comes to quick plays, a very important tool in a league like MLS where defensive lines are not so reactive to this type of tempo.
Like Altidore, Osorio is becoming a clutch player as well, netting goals when it matters most. He has scored three times in this competition, joining Giovinco as the third all-time TFC scorer in the CCL.
Several factors can be linked with Osorio’s growth, but the Brampton-born player has definitely felt the pressure to raise the bar after the signings of Vazquez and Ager Aketxe. He is proving that he deserved to be a starter.
At the Azteca, Osorio contributed heavily at the back with two defensive blocks inside the 18, one interception, four clearances and an impressive 12 recoveries, despite being assigned a much more offensive role than Delgado, for example.
After the shocking goal, the home side started to stretch the field and were banking on the velocity and technique of their wingers, from which they came close to leveling terms twice.
First, they managed to put the ball into the back of the net through a Zavaleta own goal, but it was ruled offside.
Then, on 28 minutes, Alex Bono, once again, proved to be a top goalkeeper with a fingertip save on Paul Aguilar
Club América nullified
After the change of ends, Vanney realised that TFC were suffering from the flanks, andhe switched to a 4-4-2 backline with Nicolas Hasler replacing vdW.
The idea was to have two players on each flank with pace, solid physical structure and a high work ethic in order to close the gaps and prevent America from dancing their way into the box.
At this point, TFC, with a three-goal advantage, never really inched their way up on the field and it was one-way traffic from América, aided also by a couple of technical flaws from TFC.
Diego Lainez, who was introduced in the second half, was America’s main threat as he was exploiting the half-spaces, getting in between the full-back and the central defender before either shooting himself or letting crosses fly into the box.
Bono was forced to produce another spectacular save on 64 minutes in one of TFC’s few mistakes, when they left Alejandro Diaz all alone inside the 18.
An interesting observation from the final stages of the game was that TFC, despite being exhausted, still held their ground and did not lose concentration. This highlights the toughness that this team has been nurturing game after game in this competition.