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)
Toronto FC has a lot of work to do to keep its Concacaf Champions League dream alive.
The Reds fell 2-1 to Chivas Guadalajara in the first leg of the continental competition’s final Tuesday, with striker Alan Pulido netting a vital second away goal that puts the Mexican club firmly in the driver’s seat.
Rodolfo Pizarro scored Chivas’ first before Jonathan Osorio equalized for the hosts with his fourth goal in seven games in this tournament.
Any hope among home fans that the visitors would not enjoy freezing conditions at BMO Field, which has been battered by snow and icy rain over the past few days, was extinguished within two minutes. Chivas immediately made inroads down Toronto’s left side and when Isaác Brizuela found space to slide a pass across goal, TFC’s defense was caught napping.
Pizarro ghosted in from the opposite flank to finish from close range.
“It’s a bad goal to give up,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney bemoaned. “We’re two minutes into the game. It’s a throw in on the side. We’ve got to deal with it better.
“I don’t know if it changes the game, but it certainly puts us in a little bit of a hole to start the game — that’s for sure.”
It appeared to shake Toronto momentarily, but after taking a few minutes for players to collect themselves and get to grips with Chivas’ man-marking system, the Reds grew in confidence.
The crucial matchup was between Sebastian Giovinco and Chivas midfielder Michael Pérez. Perez followed TFC’s star around the field as if they were attached at the hip, and the first time Giovinco shook him off — in the 19th minute — the game was level.
The Italian spun away from Pérez on Toronto’s right and found Jozy Altidore, who played a superb pass down the flank to Marky Delgado.
Delgado’s low cross was equally precise and Osorio bravely slid in at the back post to convert.
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From there on, Toronto took control — and would be left to rue the chances it spurned before the half.
One end-to-end move finished with Giovinco, Auro and Osorio combining to set up Altidore, but the striker scuffed the bobbly turf and could not get enough power on his shot.
Then Altidore drifted to the right before exchanging passes with Giovinco — who returned the ball with a brilliant flick — to break into the box, but his left-footed effort was again too close to the goalkeeper.
“We had some good chances to tilt the bar in our favor tonight and we weren’t able to take advantage, but that’s football,” captain Michael Bradley reflected afterwards.
After the break, Marky Delgado sent a 20-yard shot over the crossbar when he should have hit the target. As wasted opportunities stacked up, Chivas came back into the game as an attacking force.
The goal that may determine the destination of the trophy was fortuitous, though, to say the least. Pulido’s free kick from way out on the left wing caught the wind and sailed all the way over a despairing Alex Bono in the Toronto net.
Chivas’ 2-1 aggregate lead leaves Toronto needing to score twice at Estadio Akron to have any chance of becoming the first MLS club to win the Champions League in its modern format due to the away goals rule.
“Would we have preferred to come away with a win at home? Absolutely,” Bradley added. “But guess what? We can go there and win too.”