While Toronto FC is still looking for its first win of the Major League Soccer regular season, the reigning MLS Cup champs are just a few steps away from making history in the CONCACAF Champions League.
TFC have made it to the semifinals of the continental competition after dispatching the Colorado Rapids and Tigres. Now they have to get past vaunted Mexican side Club America to become only the third MLS team to reach the tournament final.
Here’s what you need to know about the CONCACAF Champions League and TFC’s run to the semifinals.
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.
How did TFC qualify for the Champions League?
There are many different paths that teams from across the region take to get to the CONCACAF Champions League. 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 semifinals?
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 quarterfinals, 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.
Has TFC ever been this far before?
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 quarterfinals – 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.
Who is Club America?
Based in Mexico City, Club America is one of the biggest and most successful clubs in Mexico, and is regarded as one best sides in the entire CONCACAF region.
Nicknamed Las Aguilas (The Eagles), Club America’s current roster boasts international players the calibre of France’s Jeremy Menez, Darwin Quintero of Colombia, and a number of Mexican national team members. Mexican forward Henry Martin and Paraguayan winger Cecilio Dominguez lead this year’s tournament in scoring with three goals apiece.
Club America has won the Mexican league title a record 12 times (tied with Club Deportivo Guadalajara). It has also won a pair of CONCACAF Champions League titles (2015 and 2016), and it won the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (the forerunner to the Champions League) on five occasions.
So, as tough as a challenge as Tigres was for TFC, Club America poses an even stiffer test.
When do the semifinals start?
TFC will host the first leg of the semifinals on April 3 at BMO Field. The return match is scheduled for April 10 at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca.
The winner of this series advances to the final where they will take on the winner of the other semifinal between the New York Red Bulls and Mexican side Club Deportivo Guadalajara.
Why would winning the Champions League be such a big deal for TFC?
Mainly because no MLS team has ever won this competition. Mexicans teams 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 teams have ever made it to the final: Real Salt Lake in 2011 and the Montreal Impact in 2015.
Toronto FC would obviously love to win the Champions League to strike a blow for MLS pride against the Mexican clubs who have dominated this tournament. 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 the Reds’ MLS Cup victory over Seattle in December.
TFC also has extra incentive to win this tournament. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup, an annual, international tournament featuring the six continental club champions, including the winners of the UEFA Champions League and the Copa Libertadores (South American club championship).
The 2018 FIFA Club World Cup is schedule for Dec. 12-22 in the United Arab Emirates.