On Tuesday night, Toronto FC will be taking on Club América in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. It’ll be a brutal grind, even in spite of TFC’s 3-1 aggregate lead in their Concacaf Champions League semi-final tie.
We’ve all been talking for a couple weeks now about how incredible it’ll be to see the Reds go marching into such a historic stadium. Now that it’s actually upon us, though, it’s worth looking at the hallowed venue in a little more depth.
The Azteca opened in 1966, decades before MLS was a glimmer in anyone’s eye (but a full 50 years after Club América was founded — that’s perspective for you). This stadium has seen some absolutely wonderful football played in it. The only venue in the world to host two World Cup finals, in 1970 and 1986.
That means that Pelé played his last (and greatest) World Cup there, earning Brazil the right to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy. Diego Maradona also won his World Cup at the Azteca, scoring both the Hand of God goal and this beauty in doing so.
The Azteca is also, of course, the venue where Michael Bradley did this:
It seats just over 85,000, although for a midweek Concacaf game against a Canadian club we may be looking at somewhere closer to 50,000 for Tuesday. Animosity and a two-goal score to catch up to may draw a few more fans, though — and it’ll be hostile as hell regardless.
Only two MLS teams have ever played at the Azteca: the Seattle Sounders in the 2016 quarterfinal, and the Montreal Impact in the 2015 final. Seattle were beaten pretty handily in their trip to the Azteca; they went up in the 41st minute on an own goal, but by the 50th the home side had a 3-1 lead.
The Impact’s visit actually went pretty well, an Ignacio Piatti goal in the 16th minute giving them the lead until Oribe Peralta equalized in the 88th. Montreal went on to lose the home leg 4-2, giving América the title.
Montreal can certainly take some solace in the fact that they’re one of just two teams América have failed to beat at home in the Champions League. The only side ever to win at the Azteca in the CCL were Costa Rican side Alajuelense, who scraped a 1-0 win in the group stage of the 2013-14 competition en route to winning Group 4 and eliminating América.
TFC are certainly not the first team to beat Las Aguilas in the first leg before heading down to Mexico. Herediano, for example, also from Costa Rica, won 3-0 in the home leg of the 2015 semis, before América thrashed them 6-0 a week later at home to win the tie.
So, lead or not, the Reds would do well to treat this tie as if it’s 0-0. Parking the bus at the Azteca will surely bite them eventually, as it has so many teams in the past.
América like to say that they do not lose at the Azteca; Miguel Herrera implied as much in his colourful press conference at BMO Field. The building’s atmosphere will be thick with history, considering all the legends that have come before.
Tuesday night is when Toronto FC try to make some more history of their own.