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Toronto FC 1-3 Tigres — Tactical takeaways from the Campeones Cup

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The MLS Cup champions were no match for Tigres in the long run as the Mexican side clinched the inaugural Campeones Cup trophy.

MLS: Campeones Cup-Tigres UANL at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

‘International Super Bowl

Prior to the game, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, described this competition as a potential “international Super Bowl.”

Unfortunately, it did not feel like that given various factors. First, BMO Field was not as pumped up as it was during the home ties in the Concacaf Champions League, and rightly so because those games mattered more.

Second, despite some moments of brilliant individuality that were produced on the field, the game lacked full intensity and it felt more like a friendly match bar some on-field disputes between the players.

Measurement gauge

So, does that mean that this is not a good way for MLS teams to compare their levels with the Liga MX sides? In my opinion, it is a good way but in order to arrive at that, we have to see different MLS sides contending it because that would showcase different playing systems, players and cultures competing. The more editions there are, the more competitive and coveted this silverware will become for either league.

TFC’s record against Mexicans teams is now 4-6-3 (3-3-1 in 2018), still a respectable one especially when you put the results achieved into context.

Buoyed by their recent unbeaten streak, Tigres felt that they had unfinished business and to quote our own Charlie O’Connor-Clarke, their strong starting XI underlined their ambition in claiming the spoils on their opponents’ turf.

Both sides had met last March, when TFC overcame Tigres’ challenge 2-1 at home before losing 3-2 in Mexico, but the defeat did not harm Vanney’s team as they punched their tickets for the semi-finals.

Yet, last night’s game was a far cry from that impressive quarter-final showing as although TFC did have a confident start, their opponents’ quality was proving too much to cope with as the game wore on.

Greg Vanney’s selection

TFC were shaped in a 3-5-2 formation with Michael Bradley deployed as a central defender in between Nick Hagglund and Eriq Zavaleta. Gregory van der Wiel was tasked with the wing-back role, his natural habitat while Jay Chapman was provided another opportunity as he played in the central midfield. Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore paired up on the offensive line.

The home side started brightly, enjoying the lion’s share of possession as they were trying to break the 5-3-2 low block proposed by Tigres in the early stages of the game.

When defending, TFC were doing a good job in narrowing the half-spaces with Altidore dropping in the second line of pressure behind Giovinco in the middle of the field. In fact, Tigres were only dangerous on a couple of set-pieces, one of them hitting the crossbar as well.

The passing trajectories of Tigres were easily read by the backline and they looked at ease until minute 23, when a turnover from the Mexican side forced Alex Bono to avert the danger.

In the first half, Tigres did not really put emphasis on exposing TFC’s back three in one-on-one situations, leaving their target man Andre-Pierre Gignac roaming between the central defenders and Eduardo Vargas in a number 10 role, dropping deep to dialogue with his teammates before moving forward.

After the change of ends, while chasing the result, TFC had Lucas Janson up front, even when Tosaint Ricketts replaced Altidore and the home side shifted to a 4-1-4-1/4-4-2 formation, with skipper Bradley moving in the middle.

It was proving difficult for Toronto to spray through balls in between the lines for their attacking duo, both because Tigres were very sharp at the back and also because the game was already done and dusted and the team did not look really convinced of turning the tables.

All in all, TFC’s biggest concern from this game will be Giovinco’s health after he was subbed off late in the first half due to what has been reported as “calf cramping.”

Lapse of concentration

All three goals are down to lapses of concentration, especially the first and third one paving the way for a disastrous result on home soil.

Tigres forged ahead when a delightful through ball from the middle overcame the midfield line, dropped behind Zavaleta and van der Wiel — whose reaction skills were not excellent in that moment — and permitted Jesus Dueñas to strike. Bono can share some blame as well because he conceded the shot on the first post, the side which he should have covered more especially with his physique.

Dueñas doubled the score with a fantastic long-range shot from a loose ball. The execution in itself was perfect but there was no pressure applied from him from the start of the set-piece and that allowed the Tigres player to have enough time to hit the ball the way he wanted.

Tuco Ferretti’s side made sure of the win with a bizarre own goal from a 3v2 situation. Hagglund and Justin Morrow looked like they had Enner Valencia under control, but Morrow’s short clearance allowed the former West Ham striker to whip in a ball that was misjudged by Zavaleta, deceiving Bono and dashing TFC’s hopes.

This goal summarized TFC’s season: lack of concentration and aggressiveness in decisive parts of the field that transcend into moments of collapse which have cost the team lot of points throughout this year.

TFC have now conceded 10 goals in their past four games.

Conclusions

To put Toronto FC’s situation in perspective, this side resembles the German national team that featured in the 2018 FIFA World Cup or the Inter side after their treble in the 2010/2011 season.

At the moment, they look exhausted and out of ideas. And it is understandable, because having conquered everything last season, it is not easy for this core of players to have the same hunger for domestic success like in the past year. In Italian, they would say, “i giocatori hanno staccato la spina,” (the players have pulled the plug).

In fact, the only time where we saw this team playing very well on a regular basis was in the continental championship, a tournament which the team has never won and was a penalty away from capping a remarkable 2018.

One would have expected Greg Vanney’s clan to fight for every inch in this game but with a huge game against the New York Red Bulls around the corner that could have a big say on TFC’s current season; the players’ minds were surely already located in New Jersey.