Toronto FC will take every edge it can get.
The Reds enter Wednesday’s final leg of the Concacaf Champions League down 2-1 to Chivas Guadalajara and needing to do the only thing they have yet to accomplish in this year’s competition: beat a Mexican club away from home.
With Chivas having shut out both the Seattle Sounders and the New York Red Bulls at Estadio Akron in previous rounds, the challenge of the task in front of TFC led the club to lock down preparations to avoid any leaks of tactics or team selection.
Greg Vanney had his team training behind closed doors since arriving in Guadalajara on Friday, with no media allowed to watch and security monitoring the perimeter. When Toronto took to the field at Chivas’ stadium for its mandated open session, players did nothing beyond light warmups and waited out the 15 minutes before they were allowed to return to privacy.
According to Mexican newspaper El Universal, Toronto also brought along its own supplies of food and drink after several players, including star striker Jozy Altidore, caught a stomach bug following the team’s visit for a semifinal against Club América. TFC even paid the hotel it is staying at to accommodate its own chefs.
“I don’t know if it was related to the water or anything or if it was a bug that was going around,” Vanney said last week. “But it was a couple staff, a few players, different things like that where we were trying to nail down exactly what it was.
“So there’s a few things we’re trying to keep track of. Everybody, I think, is doing okay now, or on the right side of it. We’re just trying to keep guys hydrated and feeling okay. That’s the biggest thing. When we go down there we’ll have two chefs with us. For the most part you take every precaution you can but it’s not an exact science.”
Toronto FC's Drew Moor reacts after missing a goal-scoring chance against Guadalajara during the second half in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League soccer final, Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
While sickness should not be a concern by the time kickoff arrives, Toronto is unlikely to be able to call upon the three regular starters suffering from more serious ailments.
Justin Morrow (calf) did not fly to Guadalajara until Tuesday, indicating he will not be involved at all in the second leg, while Chris Mavinga (sports hernia) did not train. Midfield playmaker Victor Vázquez, meanwhile, was involved in the final session but is not expected to be ready for 90 minutes.
“We will see what we can do, if I can help,” Vázquez said, per Sportsnet. “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.”
Centerback Nick Hagglund (hamstring) is definitely out.
In addition to claiming the trophy, the winner of this tie will qualify for December’s FIFA Club World Cup and could have the chance to take on the European champion.
“The Club World Cup is a big objective for our team and a big objective for MLS now for a number of years,” TFC captain Michael Bradley said Tuesday. “We have a very good team and MLS is a very good league. Our opportunity to play in big matches against the biggest and best Mexican teams has been something that we really enjoy and we’ve relished that every step along the way. [Wednesday] night we’re going leave everything we have on the field to win this competition.”
Toronto must beat Chivas to have any chance of becoming the first MLS club to win the Champions League in its modern era. A 1-0 victory will not be enough due to the away goals rule, while 2-1 will send the tie to a penalty shootout. Any other Toronto win will see the Reds crowned continental champions.
“We’re optimistic and we’re ready for this challenge,” midfielder Jonathan Osorio added. “We’re ready to make Wednesday a very special night.”