The Atomic Ant leads Toronto FC to victory, carrying a two-goal cushion into Azteca Stadium, where atmosphere, altitude and attitude will test the MLS side’s maturity
Champions League lights flooded BMO Field once again, with Toronto FC participating in a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal for the second time in franchise history. The Reds entered BMO looking to avenge their last experience in a semifinal, when they lost to Mexican side Santos Laguna by an aggregate score of 7-3.
Club America, on the other hand was familiar with the tournament’s final stages. Not only are they the defending champion, back-to-backbut they also hold the record for continental titles for any team in the region: seven, between the Champions League and its predecessor the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
Toronto FC came into this match hot off their domestic league win against Real Salt Lake, and outsting arguably the odds-on Champions League favourite Tigres in the previous round. On the other hand, Club America waltzed through two Champions League rounds, decisively defeating opponents Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica) by an aggregate score of 6-2 in the round of 16, and Tauro FC (Panama) by a 7-1 win in the quarter finals. The only other previous meeting between these two sides a lopsided loss for TFC: 6-3 in a preseason friendly in Mexico City less than two months ago, which can hardly be counted.
Las Aguilas as they are nicknamed, currently sit in fourth spot in the Liga MX Clausura tournament with 24 points, only three behind leaders Toluca, while TFC’s young season is still reeling from early defeats in March with a deficit to make up.
Former Roma and Milan attacking midfielder Jeremy Menez was not be part of this match, as he picked up an injury on March 29. His expected return to action is still to be determined. Without Menez, former Mexican national team coach Herrera opted for Andres Ibarguen to substitute Menez, while sticking to a 4-2-3-1 formation. The surprise insertion was William da Silva along side Mateus Uribe in a two-man midfield. Former Mexican international Oribe Peralta lead the attack with Cecilio Dominguez and Guido Rodriguez flanking Ibarguen behind him.
Vanney lifted the mystery on man-selection only minutes before kick-off, selecting a guarded 3-5-2 formation with Bono between the posts, Van der Wiel, Moor, and Zavaleta in the back; Auro Jr., Delgado, Bradley, Osorio, and Morgan; with Altidore and Giovinco up top.
The game got off to a hot start. Just 7 minutes in TFC is awarded a penalty for a trip on Giovinco in America’s box.
The Atomic Ant steps us and duly scores. 1-0 TFC
America played an airy formation favouring open play. At times the match is likened to a blow-by-blow boxing bout where the opponents are fighting each other with their guard down.
At the 20th minute, Herrera’s tactic pays off: Ibarguen, Menez’s substitute dribbles past Bradley (twice) and Delgado and places the ball high, past a faultless Bono 1-1.
Giovinco had a tough day at the office, finding difficulty in dribbling passed his opponents, often showing his frustration – culminating in a yellow card and several warnings. On 37 minutes, he finds Altidore, whose shot is blocked, but 7 minutes later the same combination proves to be the winning one: Seba lobs a ball passed a defender over to Altidore who walks into the big box and slots it passed Marchesin. 2-1 TFC at the half.
Giovinco was quite inspired on the night making a case for himself to be named Man of the Match. At the 51st minute he was involved in three plays: first a penalty shout after trip in the box which referee Bejerano ignores, then his shot on goal is deflected, and following the corner he skips past his marker on the short side and crosses, but Moor can’t square it in.
At the 58th minute BMO Field witnessed a beautiful sporting story unfold: Delgado opens play wide for Auro Jr, who squares it across for Morgan who hammers it home after returning from a year-long injury, a goal that could be worth qualification for TFC to a historic CONCACAF Champions League final. 3-1 TFC.
The last half hour featured TFC administering their lead, a carousel of substitutions, and a miracle save by Bono on Peralta to keep the cushion at 2 goals. 3-1 TFC at full time.