Toronto FC is a mere 180 minutes away from making history in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The reigning MLS Cup champs have made it to the finals of the competition after dispatching fellow MLS side Colorado Rapids, and Mexican teams Tigres and Club America. Now they have to get past another Mexican outfit, Club Deportivo Guadalajara (otherwise known as Chivas).
Here’s what you need to know about the CONCACAF Champions League, and TFC’s run to the final as it attempts to become the first MLS club to be crowned the kings of the continent.
What is the CONCACAF Champions League?
You’ve heard of the UEFA Champions League, right? Well, this is the exact same premise, only the CONCACAF Champions League brings together the best teams from across North and Central America, and the Caribbean.
When is the final?
TFC will host the opener of the two-legged, aggregate final on April 17 at BMO Field. The return match is slated for April 25 at Guadalajara’s Estadio Akron.
Who is Club Deportivo Guadalajara?
Formed in 1906, Club Deportivo Guadalajara is one of the biggest and most successful teams in Mexico, and is regarded as one best sides in the entire CONCACAF region.
Commonly referred to as Las Chivas (The Goats) or Chivas Guadalajara, the team is famous for exclusively fielding only Mexicans – there are no international players on its roster. This complete reliance on homegrown players is one of the many reasons why Chivas is Mexico’s most popular club.
Chivas have won the Mexican league title a record 12 times (tied with Club America, their greatest rival). Chivas won the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, the tournament that preceded the Champions League, in 1962. This is their first time in the Champions League final.
Chivas currently sits 13th (out of 18 teams) in the Liga MX standings, and is coming off of a 3-0 road loss to Club Tijuana last Friday, a game in which they fielded a reserve team and rested their starters.
They are managed by Matias Almeyda, a former defensive midfielder who earned 35 caps for Argentina from 1996 to 2003 (he started all five game at the 1998 World Cup in France). Almeyda also played for such notable clubs as River Plate, Sevilla, Lazio, Inter Milan and Parma.
How did TFC qualify for the Champions League?
There are many different roads that teams from across the region take to get to the CONCACAF Champions League.
It’s important to note that even though TFC is representing MLS in the Champions League, it didn’t qualify for the competition as MLS Cup champions. Canada has one spot in the tournament, and that berth goes to the annual winner of the Canadian club championship, also known as the Voyageurs Cup. The Reds beat the Montreal Impact in the 2017 Canadian tournament final to book their place in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League.
What path did TFC take to get to the final?
A restructuring of this year’s Champions League resulted in the elimination of the group stage, so the 16 teams who qualified went straight into the first knockout round.
Toronto was drawn against fellow MLS side Colorado Rapids in the Round of 16, and it won the two-legged affair based on the strength of its 2-0 victory in Denver in the first leg (the teams battled to a 0-0 draw in the return match at BMO Field).
In the quarter-finals, Toronto earned a 2-1 home win over reigning Mexican Liga MX champions Tigres in the opener. The Reds then travelled to Monterrey for the second leg where they suffered a 3-2 loss. The series was tied 4-4 on aggregate, but Toronto advanced to the next round on the away goals rule.
Then in the semifinals, TFC squared off against Club America, historically one of the best and biggest teams in Mexican soccer. Based in Mexico City, Club America won the Champions League in 2015 and 2016, and also won the old CONCACAF Champions’ Cup on five occasions.
Toronto beat Club America 3-1 at home in the first leg, and then battled to a 1-1 draw in the return match at the iconic Estadio Azetca in the return match to advance 4-2 on aggregate.
Has TFC ever been this far before?
No. TFC made it to the semifinals of the 2011-12 Champions League. After finishing second in their opening, round-robin group, the Reds bested David Beckham and the LA Galaxy in the two-legged quarter-finals – the teams played to a 2-2 draw before 47,658 fans at the Rogers Centre before TFC won the second leg in Los Angeles. Toronto earned a 1-1 draw at home against Mexican side Santos Laguna in the opening match of the semifinals, but then lost the return match 6-2 in Torreon.
Why would winning the Champions League be such a big deal for TFC?
Mainly because no MLS team has ever won this competition. Mexicans sides have won every single CONCACAF Champions League since the inaugural tournament in 2008. In fact, seven of the nine finals have been all-Liga MX affairs. Only two non-Mexican clubs have ever made it to the final: Real Salt Lake in 2011 and the Impact in 2015.
Toronto FC would obviously love to win the Champions League to strike a blow for MLS pride against Liga MX, but this also represents the next frontier for the Reds. They’ve won the Canadian Championship, the MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield. The only thing remaining for them to win is the CONCACAF Champions League.
“The next step is CONCACAF Champions League. That’s the next step, and we’ve already been talking about it,” club president Bill Manning told Sportsnet just moments after TFC’s MLS Cup victory over Seattle in December.
Toronto also has extra incentive to win this tournament. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup, an annual tournament featuring the six continental club champions, including the winners of this year’s UEFA Champions League and the Copa Libertadores (South American club championship).
The 2018 FIFA Club World Cup is scheduled for Dec. 12-22 in the United Arab Emirates.