The biggest game in Toronto FC’s history is nearing. The MLS Cup champions are trailing 2-1 to Chivas Guadalajara after the first leg at BMO Field and they will need to defy the odds in becoming the first MLS side to win on Mexican soil if they are to conquer the continent and clinch a FIFA Club World Cup berth.
Waking the Red made sure to bring you the point of view from the Mexican side, by speaking with FMF State of Mind’s Rafael Diaz in the interest of learning more about how Chivas will try to claim the CONCACAF Champions League spoils tonight.
Waking the Red: Your reactions after the first leg?
Rafael Diaz: Massive win for Chivas. The early goal definitely changed the direction of the match, and methinks if Rodolfo Pizarro had not scored that, TFC would have gone on to take control of the match. In fact, both goals forced Toronto to grant Chivas plenty of space to go forward, giving the Goats’ defenders an extra couple seconds to adjust defensively. This was important because on paper no Chivas defender can match the physicality of Jozy Altidore and the speed of Sebastian Giovinco. Any advantage you can take against them is welcomed. At the end, TFC were lucky the score wasn’t more than a 2-1 defeat.
WTR: Did you expect that from Tigres, Club América and Chivas, the latter would have given Toronto FC the most trouble?
R: Not at all. But unlike Tigres and Club América, Chivas have treated their series vs. Toronto with the respect it deserves. It is a bit silly that we are talking about arguably one of the best Major League Soccer teams in history, and both Tigres and Club América treated their games against TFC like they were nobodies.
WTR: How do you expect Chivas to play now?
R: I don’t expect Chivas to change much. After the game at BMO Field, Pizarro expressed that he thinks Chivas play best when they continuously press opponents. If anything, Chivas ran their heart out in the first leg. Toronto will undoubtedly make Chivas suffer at some point in this game, which means the goats will have to rely on pressing, intercepting, and countering to close out this Final. In particular, Chivas will look to make Michael Bradley worry in the midfield. All Chivas need is a bad giveaway by Toronto and it might be game over for the Canadians.
WTR: Which of Chivas’ weaknesses can TFC exploit?
R: I think the key for TFC has less to do with exploiting a Chivas weakness and more about just trusting your strengths. For example, Sebastian Giovinco is a special player, and Chivas coach Matias Almeyda took the unusual step of having defensive midfielder Michael Perez constantly come out of position to defend him. Essentially, Chivas lost out on a midfield player just to try and neutralize Giovinco, something they didn’t entirely do to perfection. While Perez had one of his best games in a Chivas jersey, Giovinco still found ways to cause damage to the Chivas defense. Toronto know their best chance of winning is by having Giovinco play well. Give him the ball and the Chivas weaknesses will show. He is that good.
WTR: If Chivas win it all, would it be down to their coach’s tactical nous?
R: If Chivas win it all, it will be because of a dedicated coaching staff that did everything they could with very limited resources. Matias Almeyda has been one of the most influential figures for Chivas in recent years, and it is safe to say that outside of tactics, he has been an inspiration to almost all of his players. He has certainly had his ups and downs with the club, but when the time comes (maybe sooner rather than later), Chivas fans will look back fondly at the Matias Almeyda era.
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.