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Toronto FC has mountain to climb entering final Champions League match

 

Here are three things we learned from Toronto FC’s 2-1 loss against Chivas Guadalajara in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League final.

1. The challenge facing TFC is immense…

Toronto FC is in a hole, as its coach Greg Vanney put it.

The task now in front of them, with the Concacaf Champions League on the line, is as daunting as they have ever faced: the Reds must score twice and win on the road in order to keep their hopes of lifting the trophy alive.

This has been a hugely impressive run on Toronto’s part, but Vanney’s team is yet to win in Mexico. A 3-2 loss at Tigres was followed by a 1-1 draw against Club América.

On both occasions, TFC was unlucky not to get more. América equalized with a 92nd-minute penalty and Tigres won with an even later spot kick, having tied the game with four minutes of normal time to play. It did not matter on either occasion thanks to the work Toronto had done at BMO Field.

This time, though, they will be chasing the tie from the start.

And given Chivas has won three out of three at Estadio Akron against Cibao, the Seattle Sounders and the New York Red Bulls without so much as conceding a goal — Toronto is going to need an astonishing effort to overcome this setback.

2. …but belief has not faded

Some athletes react to disappointment by pouring out their emotions, while others maintain an almost unnatural composure.

TFC captain Michael Bradley unquestionably falls into the latter camp. So does Auston Matthews, the star center of Toronto’s beloved Maple Leafs. And three days after Matthews reacted to his team’s pummelling by the Boston Bruins with a simple “that’s hockey,” he had an echo at BMO Field.

“We had some good chances to tilt the bar in our favor tonight and we weren’t able to take advantage,” Bradley said. “That’s football.”

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)

Whether or not Toronto is capable of turning this tie around remains to be seen, but what we can be sure of is that this team does not believe it is even close to down and out.

If anything, Bradley and company seemed satisfied with the way the game passed, two costly lapses aside. And they certainly did not intend on dwelling on them.

“The response has to be strong in every way,” he added. “We’re going to regroup and look at some things from this game, understand how we can tweak a few things to give ourselves an even better chance to put things in our favor even more, and be ready in Guadalajara to play and attack and be aggressive and make chances and put out fires when we need to.

“And do it over and over and over again for 90 minutes.”

3. TFC needs Bono back to his best

It says something about the way Alex Bono has grown as a goalkeeper over the past year that Vanney did not feel he needed protecting for the error made in conceding Chivas’ second goal.

Alan Pulido’s free kick — probably intended as a cross — drifted in from the left and all the way over Bono’s head before nestling in the corner.

“I think so,” Vanney replied when asked if Bono misread the play. “You can ask him, but that was my opinion — that he looked a little frozen on the ball. Then was a little delayed, misjudged it and it drops in at the back post.”

Bono agreed.

“I am not going to sit here and make an excuse about that,” Bono said. “It is definitely a misread on my part. It is something I have to own up to and work on in training and get ready for the next tie.”

If anything, the cost of Bono’s error highlighted just how important he’s been to TFC in the Champions League. If not for a remarkable save in the first half at Estadio Azteca, Toronto’s last match against Club América might have looked more like this one.

“He’s been so important for us in this last stretch,” Bradley commented. “We’re not gonna think twice about that. We’ve got no time to worry about anything that didn’t go our way tonight.”

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