Toronto FC’s challenge vs. Chivas not unlike one conquered in 2016

Michael-Bradley

Michael Bradley in action for TFC. (Chris Young/CP)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – In sizing up what is being called the biggest game in club history, Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney delved into the past to remind everyone that his team has previously been in this situation.

TFC enters Wednesday’s second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final at a distinct disadvantage after last week’s 2-1 loss at home in the opener to Chivas Guadalajara. That result means all Chivas need is a draw in the return match to lift the trophy. Even a 1-0 loss would be good enough for the Mexican outfit to win the aggregate series on the away goals rule.

TFC, on the other hand, has to score at least two goals to have a chance at becoming the first MLS team to win the Champions League. TFC dispatched Tigres and Club America, two of the biggest and best sides from the Mexican Liga MX in the previous two rounds of this competition, having done so with the decisive second leg of both of those series held in Mexico.

Now, the Reds need a third consecutive result on Mexican soil, but Chivas may be the toughest test yet. They’ve conceded just one goal in this year’s competition, and it came away from home.

Still, Vanney likes his team’s chances ahead of Wednesday’s tilt at Estadio Akron, nicknamed “the UFO” by the locals for its resemblance to a flying saucer. At the last press conference before the game, he drew the Mexican media’s attention to TFC’s epic Eastern Conference playoff series against the Montreal Impact in 2016 as evidence of his side being able to come from behind in a two-game series.

For those who need reminding, Toronto trailed 3-0 after 53 minutes of the first leg in Montreal, before scoring twice in a losing effort. Then in the second leg at BMO Field, the Impact took the lead. The Reds battled back, and tied the score on aggregate, before bagging two goals in extra time to win the game and the series.

The circumstances are a little bit different this time around. What hasn’t changed is that Toronto needs to score and go out and attack in order to pull off the comeback like it did against Montreal.

“I don’t need to [remind] our players where we’re at and what we need to do. We’ve been in this situation before. It’s been a little while because, in fairness, whether it’s in the MLS playoffs or in this tournament, we’ve never been behind and had to play from that situation,” Vanney said.

“[In 2016] when we went to Montreal, we were down 3-0. It was an incredible two legs that we won in the end. We had to attack in the second leg, and we did, and the game was wide open. We took advantage of all of our opportunities.

“We know what the outcome has to be, we know we have to score at least two goals. I don’t need to convince the guys to go set up and attack.”

Vanney also takes comfort from the fact that his team created plenty of scoring opportunities in last week’s loss to Chivas at BMO Field. He’s confident TFC can do likewise on Wednesday, and finish them off this time. His team will take its time in trying to break down Chivas, although he certainly wouldn’t mind an early goal.

“If they score first, we continue to do what we’re doing. It’s a long game, we’re not in a rush. We’re not trying to do anything crazy; we can approach this one play at a time,” Vanney offered.

Vanney faces some major selection headaches ahead of Wednesday’s game. Defenders Justin Morrow and Chris Mavinga, who have both dealt with injuries the past few weeks, didn’t originally travel with the team to Mexico. They are expected to be in attendance for the second leg, but won’t play.

Influential playmaker Victor Vazquez is in Guadalajara, but the Spaniard remains questionable due to an ongoing nerve issue in his back. At full strength, the return of Vazquez would be a big boost for Toronto. However, he admitted he’s still trying to get back to full match fitness, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll be deployed, whether as a starter or coming off the bench, if he’s cleared to play on Wednesday.

“I’m feeling better. Happy to train a bit with the group. We’re going to decide in the next couple [of hours] what we’re going to do for Wednesday and the game. … I’m feeling well. Much better than before. I don’t have any issue, I don’t have any pain,” Vazquez said.

He later added: “We will see what we can do, if I can help. We’ll see on Wednesday, but I’m sure I’m going to be there at least on the bench, and try to do my best to help the team. But I think with the guys we have, we can do it.”

To be sure, TFC is up against it. Needing to score twice is bad enough, but they need to score twice against a stingy Chivas side. It’s a daunting task, but captain Michael Bradley feels that Toronto has the experience to overcome the odds Wednesday night in Guadalajara.

“We have a group that draws on all of the big experiences that we’ve had together over the past few years. We’ve played finals, we’ve played two-legged series, we’ve been ahead we’ve been behind, we’ve had to play on the edge, we’ve had to defend leads, we have big experiences in moments like this. We’re going to step on the field and go for it,” Bradley stated.

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