Chivas Guadalajara was like nothing Jesse Marsch had seen before.
The New York Red Bulls coach labeled the Liga MX side “unique” after being held to a 0-0 draw at Red Bull Arena, which eliminated his club from Concacaf Champions League at the semifinal stage.
Marsch was referring to Chivas’ unusual man-to-man marking system employed by manager Matías Almeyda. Marsch tweaked his typical lineup in a bid to play through it, but the Red Bulls couldn’t find a goal despite dominating the second leg and the 1-0 first-leg loss held.
Almeyda’s tactics also got the better of the Seattle Sounders before the Red Bulls. Next in line is the best MLS has to offer: its reigning champion, Toronto FC.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney, agreeing with Marsch’s assessment of Chivas, made it clear he’s well aware of the challenge his players will face in Tuesday’s first leg of the Champions League final at a frozen BMO Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. ET.
“They are unique,” Vanney said. “And the irony in Jesse’s statement is that they’re actually kind of similar to the way Jesse plays. They’re a very personal team. Once they decide to initiate pressure, they get very personal. Man-on-man marking, they will track guys all around the field. They’re very disciplined in that. They’re very good at the individual marking in terms of taking up good angles and taking up good marking positions and moving with guys. In that way, they’re unique.
“They don’t give you a lot of time individually on the ball, necessarily, because always somebody is right with you. That’s how they’re unique. You see a lot of teams that will zone and find the moments that they want to lock in and mark guys, and that will shift at certain moments of the game. They’re very personal to the extent that many times they don’t change. So if players all change positions, they’ll just stay with them and change positions with them.
LISTEN: Toronto FC’s pregame press conference in full
“That’s what I think [Marsch is] getting at and that’s relatively unique. You don’t see that in our league very much. Even Jesse’s version of pressing — they get personal but they won’t just chase guys all over the field. They want to press and they want to close and condense space and all of that stuff, but they’re not as personal as Guadalajara’s willing to be.”
In its bid to find a way through the Chivas defense, Toronto may be without Victor Vázquez once again. The playmaker struggling with a back problem was kept out of training Monday as the freezing rain forced the Reds to workout on indoor turf rather than natural grass.
Vanney said he would make a decision on Vázquez, Justin Morrow (calf) and Chris Mavinga (sports hernia) closer to kickoff. Morrow and Mavinga both trained normally.
After several days of rain, snow and freezing temperatures, the state of the BMO Field pitch is unlikely to encourage Vanney to take any risks on players still carrying ailments.
Toronto is familiar with these conditions, though, and it is also familiar with the stage. Between the Canadian Championship, MLS and now the Champions League, the Reds are entering their fifth final in two years and change.
That has created a sense of ‘business as usual’ in the squad despite the magnitude of the achievement that is now within the players’ reach: no MLS club has won this competition in its current format and a place in the Club World Cup — where the winner of this tie could meet the European champion — is at stake.
“For the most part, you stick to your normal routine,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. “In this tournament, every game is a final. Every game is, like, elimination. So there’s not much you change.
“Obviously, it’s a final. There’s a little bit more there and it’s not as hard — or it doesn’t take as much — to motivate yourself because it’s a final. You’re playing for a trophy. There’s a lot to play for. Other than that, everything stays the same. We go into every game wanting to win, and that’s what we’re going to do.”