TORONTO – Complacency?
Not with Toronto FC.
The Reds enter Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League match against the Colorado Rapids on solid ground. A 2-0 road win in last week’s opening leg of this Round of 16 aggregate series means the Reds firmly control their fate – a win or a draw would send them through to the quarter-finals, and even a 1-0 loss would be enough to see them advance to the next round.
What’s more, TFC largely outplayed the Rapids in the first leg, the obvious gap in class being too much for the home side to overcome.
Still, coach Greg Vanney isn’t taking anything for granted, and maintains his team will be just as aggressive on Tuesday night as it was a week ago in Colorado. Don’t expect the Reds to sit back and bunker. They’re going to go for it, and try to kill off the series as quickly as they can.
“We have a great appreciation for the fact that this isn’t done yet, and that we have some work to do [in the second leg]. Our approach is to be very professional, play the game smart, but try to do the things we do well. … We’re not going to be here just to sit back and protect [our lead],” Vanney told reporters after Monday morning’s practice at BMO Field.
Captain Michael Bradley is in lockstep with his coach’s way of thinking, not just with regards to Tuesday’s tilt, but the CONCACAF Champions League at large, and the upcoming 2018 MLS regular season. Bradley and his cohorts make up the most expensive roster in MLS, but they take nothing for granted.
“Even as [MLS] champions from last year, nothing’s guaranteed for this year. Not even close. So, the understanding from everybody here is to take what we have built and continue to work with humility and motivation and excitement; to make sure that we are not standing still. We’re trying to push the envelope at the biggest levels,” Bradley commented.
VAN DER WIEL, AKETXE AVAILABLE
Right fullback Gregory van der Wiel missed last week’s first leg in Colorado, as he was allowed to stay behind in order to be present for the birth of his daughter. His wife delivered the couple’s first child on the weekend, which means van der Wiel is available to play in the second leg after training with TFC on Monday morning. The Dutch international has yet to make his competitive debut since singing with the Reds on Feb. 1.
“He hasn’t had a ton of sleep in the last couple of days with everything going on, so we’ll try to be wise and smart about playing him…. Obviously, this is an important week. [Tuesday] is the most important game, and then Saturday [for the MLS season opener] will be the next important game, so we’ll keep all of those things in mind,” Vanney said.
Ager Aketxe is also available to make his TFC debut on Tuesday night. The Spanish playmaker officially signed with Toronto last Friday, and the club has since received his International Transfer Certificate, paving the way for him to play in the second leg.
IF TFC FINISHES THE JOB
Should Toronto advance past Colorado, it would face the winner of the Round of 16 series between Mexico’s Tigres and Herediano of Costa Rica. Tigres earned a 2-2 road draw last week in the first leg.
TFC last competed in the Champions League in 2012-13 when they bowed out in the group stage. Toronto’s best showing was the year before when it reached the semifinals under Dutch manager Aron Winter.
No MLS team has ever won the Champions League, and only two clubs have made the final (Real Salt Lake in 2011, Montreal Impact in 2015) since the launch of the tournament in 2008-09.
Bradley feels TFC’s recent additions of van der Wiel, Aketxe and Brazilian defender Auro provide a strong indication of the club’s ambition to compete in and win the Champions League, and repeat as MLS Cup champions.
“It’s a big statement form the club, in terms of we’re not settling for anything. For as good a year we had last year, we want to be even better this year. When you bring in those types of players and characters, you make that very clear,” Bradley stated.
START OF MLS SEASON LOOMS
After Tuesday’s Champions League match, Toronto will have a short turnaround to get ready for the start of the MLS season.
For the first time in franchise history, TFC will begin the MLS campaign at home when they host the Columbus Crew in their season opener on March 3.
The Reds then enjoy a bye week, and they’ll 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.