After dumping out two high-profile Liga MX teams with an authentic history in this competition in Tigres and Club América, Toronto FC entered the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Chivas Guadalajara as favourites.
Yet, it could that which hurt TFC most because in the early stages of the game, the home side found itself trailing and completely outworked by its opponents before Jonathan Osorio restored parity with his team-leading fourth goal of the competition.
Nonetheless, Chivas still managed to snatch a win with a Rodolfo Pizarro free kick that deceived Alex Bono to earn the Liga MX side the first leg’s spoils.
In order to bring the silverware to the 6ix, Toronto need a multiple-goal win and although the task might seem difficult, TFC can bank on the likes of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco who were all on the verge of a one-game ban due to yellow cards.
Greg Vanney deployed his team in a trademark 3-5-2 with the only change from the Club América games being the re-installment of Chris Mavinga in the three-man backline at the expense of Eriq Zavaleta.
Altidore managed to recover from his knock suffered against Club América and he formed the usual offensive partnership with Giovinco.
TFC were up against a side which had not conceded a goal in their previous 282 minutes of CCL games, hence they had to be extremely cautious when in possession in order to click into gear at the right moment.
Although Chivas are not considered a dominant force and may not boast any world-renowned players, they are known for their defensive resilience. So, at this point, it was down to the midfield’s quick-thinking and the offensive pair’s offensive prowess to determine the result in favour of the home side.
Roller coaster first half
One of the things that TFC had on their bucket list for their game was to not give away goals to Chivas... which lasted less than two minutes.
Chivas got an early goal through a well-engineered move commencing from a short throw-in, as they profited from a sleeping defence. TFC’s defenders did not look focused, in particular Auro, who was neither marking the goalscorer well nor was he expecting the cross to reach his path.
The goal was a sample of the first 18 minutes of TFC as they were struggling to inch their way up the field, losing too many balls cheaply at the centre of the pitch.
On the other side, Chivas were enjoying the lion’s share of possession, winning 50/50 challenges and hemming the home side into their own half, even though they never really tested Bono again.
However, Vanney’s clan managed to find the back of the net at the right time, in a period where they looked suffocated and without any chance of overcoming Chivas’ pressure.
In the goal, one could notice both Giovinco and Altidore using their strength in order to maintain control of the ball, Marky Delgado’s clever run and inviting distribution, and Osorio’s positional awareness to lose his marker at the far post.
Chivas hadn’t conceded a CCL goal in exactly 300 minutes.
Who else? It's Oso's fourth of the competition! 1-1. pic.twitter.com/pK13hVflgN— Waking the Red (@WakingtheRed) April 18, 2018
At this point, the home side lit up the game and came close to scoring through a couple of clear-cut chances from Altidore and from a trademark free-kick by Giovinco.
In one of the Altidore’s missed chances, TFC highlighted their ability to expose their opponents at open field. In the maneuver below, one can notice Gregory van der Wiel unlocking Osorio in the midfield and immediately triggering runs from Giovinco, Delgado, Auro and Altidore.
Pass precision, speed of thought and execution are three traits that TFC need to take care of most when they head to Mexico for the second leg, next week.
Absolutely wonderful buildup by #TFC from back-to-front in transition created a good chance, but Jimenez did well to smother the shot. Beautiful football by the home side. #TFCLive #TORvCVG #CCL #SCCL2018 pic.twitter.com/xBXgKupsE9— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) April 18, 2018
Wasteful TFC make costly mistakes
After the change of ends, Zavaleta replaced Mavinga as TFC returned to a four-man defensive line, with vdW and Ashtone Morgan in their natural role of fullbacks while Auro featured as a winger ready to contribute on both defensive and offensive situations.
Most likely, the idea was to avoid one on one situations with the Chivas offensive line while having more proactive players on the flanks who can exploit the opponents’ vacuum at the back.
At one point in the game, one could see that TFC were banking on Drew Moor as their play-starter. He was leaning himself into the midfield where Chivas were leaving a lot space for the central defender to add a number in attack for TFC.
Probably, it was at this point that Vanney might have opted to insert Ager Aketxe in order to have an additional midfielder able to take reins instead of Moor, who with due respect, is not creative on the ball.
Unfortunately, it was Moor, besides Bono, who betrayed TFC in the second goal. Chivas had earned the winning set-piece from a nonsense foul made by the former Colorado Rapids defender when his opponent was next to the touchline and without any possibility of threatening TFC.
From the resultant free kick, Bono found himself away from the goal line and the curved ball, which in my opinion was savable, found the base of the net as Chivas went on to claim the first leg.
Well... this just went in to put Chivas up 2-1. Toronto FC in a bit of hot water right now. pic.twitter.com/kGFHNpEZTV— Mitchell Tierney (@mitchelltierney) April 18, 2018
To conclude, although TFC squandered a couple of glorious chances, even in the second half through Delgado, the home side would have deserved to leave this match at least with a draw and this could have been possible if they would have been awarded this penalty...
#TFC wanted a penalty, but the referee wasn't interested. Definitely looked like Giovinco was taken down in the box, as he tried to get on the end of Altidore's flicked pass.....#EraPenal #TFCLive #TORvCVG #CCL #SCCL2018 pic.twitter.com/BWs5fpgY81— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) April 18, 2018
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Next week’s second leg could provide us the best ever performance, and result, that Toronto FC has ever secured in its relatively young history.
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