Toronto FC was back in training on Saturday ahead of its second-leg match against Mexican club Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals.
The Reds head to Mexico in control of the two-legged aggregate series after earning a 2-1 win at home earlier this week in the opener.
Here are some news and notes from the day’s practice.
Vazquez injury update
Victor Vazquez will travel with the team to Monterrey for Tuesday’s second leg but whether he’ll feature against Tigres remains up in the air.
Vazquez was used as a second-half substitute by coach Greg Vanney in the first leg. Vazquez likely would have started, but he was dealing with a lower back injury that he picked up in the Reds’ loss to the Columbus Crew in their MLS regular-season opener last weekend.
Vanney said on Saturday that the Spanish playmaker, who spent one season with Mexican club Cruz Azul before joining TFC last year, is considered day-to-day at the moment. Once in Mexico, Vazquez’s status will be monitored and evaluated before any decision can be made about him playing in the return match.
“Victor is day-to-day. We’ll see how he feels,” Vanny told reporters after practice.
“It’s some back tightness that’s leading to some nerve [issues], so we’re just trying to loosen him up. He’s feeling marginally better. It’s how much can we gain over the next couple of days to try and get him ready.
“We weren’t going to throw him out there today and have him train and lose any progress that we’ve been able to make. We got some work on him [Saturday] morning and we’ll see how he progresses [Sunday] but he’s going to [travel to Mexico] and hopefully he’ll be ready to either start or give us some [playing] time.”
The scenario against Tigres
Toronto can advance to the semifinals with a win or draw on Tuesday night. The Mexicans would move on to the next round with a 1-0 win.
Don’t expect TFC to be cautious in their approach in Mexico on Tuesday, or Vanney to set his team up in a manner to play for the draw.
“We’re going there to play. We’re going there to be aggressive. We’re going there to not be afraid, to not sit back. That’s not who we are, that’s not what we want to do, that’s not what gives us the best chance,” captain Michael Bradley stated.
“We’re going to be smart, we’re going to be mindful of the position we’re in. But we’re going there to give it a real go, and make sure that they understand from the beginning the game is not going to be played on their terms the whole time.”
TFC on a break from MLS before Mexico trip
TFC enjoys a bye in MLS this weekend and will next travel to Montreal to take on the Impact on March 17 in Week 3. Back-to-back home games against Real Salt Lake and D.C. United follow their trip to Montreal.
Even though Tigres has more games under their belts (TFC only started its MLS regular season last week), Vanney welcomes the break from league play.
“It allows us the extra couple of days to stay focused on this opponent,” Vanney said. “It’s valuable. It’s a good thing. I know a lot of our guys who are looking forward to playing games … but the bye is a good thing.”
Tigres hosts Club Tijuana on Saturday night in a Liga MX match. Based in Monterrey, Tigres currently sits fifth in the Mexican league table. Tijuana, seventh in Liga MX (two points back of Tigres) is also competing in the Champions League quarter-finals. The New York Red Bulls earned a 2-0 home win in the first leg of its quarter-final versus Tijuana earlier this week.
Vanney expects Tigres to rest some starters for Saturday’s Mexician league game against Tijuana, but nothing too drastic – they’ll likely stick to the player rotation system they’ve used since the start of the Champions League last month.
“I don’t think they’ll change a whole lot. They’ll probably stick with what they’re doing. … My guess is they’ll fancy their chances coming back to Monterrey doing what they’re doing, and they’ll have options to be able to become much more attack-minded or aggressive should they want to at some point in the game,” Vanney offered.
The next step in CONCACAF
The winner of the TFC-Tigres series will meet the winner of Club America (Mexico) vs. Tauro (Panama) in the semifinals. Club America won the opening leg of its quarter-final 4-0 at home.
Farewell, Mark Bloom
Former TFC defender Mark Bloom, who spent last year with Atlanta United FC, announced his retirement earlier this week. Bloom, 30, spent four seasons with Toronto FC, making 39 appearances for the Reds from 2013 to 2016.
Bloom won plaudits on the pitch for his consistent displays at right fullback, and became one of the team’s most liked players during his time in Toronto – current Reds defender Nick Hagglund is godfather to one of Bloom’s daughters.
He is still fondly remembered by Bradley.
“Great guy. [He was] all about the team. … He was on the field on a lot of days here, a lot of good days, and when he went to Atlanta we were sorry to see him go,” Bradley offered.