The obvious comparison that sprang to mind in the immediate aftermath of Toronto FC's 2-1 home loss to Chivas in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League final was the US national team's loss to Trinidad & Tobago back in October. The gap between the two teams wasn't that large, of course – the US should beat T&T 29 times out of 30, and TFC should obviously not be favored like that over Guadalajara.
But they still should've been favored. They were the better team, and they were playing at home. They had the wind at their backs, metaphorically speaking. They shouldn't have been on the wrong side of the scoreline.
And yet, here we are. The free space in CCL Bingo is always disappointment.
Here's how it unfolded:
• Chivas came out in a 4-2-3-1 that busted apart TFC's 3-5-2
Part of the above was because TFC were so flat, they just kept losing 50/50s and failed to track runners and/or simple combination play. Obviously the best (worst?) example of that was on the game's opening goal, which came inside of two minutes.
Look at how sloppy this hand-off is on the Reds' left:
That came off a throw-in. Those kinds of mistakes aren't because of a formation, but I really do believe that TFC were surprised at how hard Chivas pressed them from the whistle, and how easily they were able to pull TFC's midfielders out wide into a form of emergency defense.
Chivas accomplished that by sliding their own central midfielders – usually Orbelín Pineda, who was excellent – into the gap wide on their own right (TFC's left), which always provided them an outlet and meant that Ashtone Morgan was always outnumbered.
It set the tone, and obviously a goal inside of two minutes is a dream start.
• Toronto responded with a goal and a formational switch
The goal came in the 19th minute. Jozy Altidore slipped Marky Delgado through, and Delgado's low, hard cross to the back post was slid home by Jonathan Osorio. It was nice, and it felt like it worked the Reds up.
The other contributing factor to TFC waking up is their own switch to a diamond-ish 4-4-2 in the immediate aftermath of that equalizing goal. That prevented the type of overloads that had killed them in the game's first 20 minutes, and while it sacrificed some of the central midfield, they compensated for that by 1) holding possession more out wide, and 2) having Altidore drop back deep while keeping a Chivas defender on his back.
It was the right switch from Greg Vanney, and one that should've paid off with a goal. It didn't in part because TFC didn't execute as well as they should've in the final third, and in part because Goats goalkeeper Miguel Jimenez had a blinder of a game.
• Alex Bono did not have a blinder of a game
Bono's been great during this tournament, but that second goal feels like a back-breaker.
He's largely right. At worst, TFC should be going down to Mexico at 1-1.
But they're not. A 2-1 result is not the very end – another way this night was different from that USMNT loss to T&T – but it gets the Reds most of the way there.
The free space, year after year, is disappointment.