Wait, you were surprised that Toronto FC were able to beat Club América 3-1 on Tuesday night?
Not sure why that is, considering Toronto are an all-time great MLS team coming off the first treble in league history. They knocked off the team that has won three of the last five Liguillas in the quarterfinals (Tigres UANL). The only thing that was somewhat surprising is that they were able to win despite missing three of their starters (Chris Mavinga, Justin Morrow, Victor Vazquez).
Toronto boast one of the best players in MLS history, two players who havebeen stalwarts for the US national team over the past decade (though that may not be such a good thing these days), and a system built around them where everybody knows their roles and can execute them repeatedly. That system has helped turn players some might perceive as ordinary into rising stars (Marky Delgado).
Las Aguilas outshot (14-10, 5-3 on target) and outpossessed (58%-42%) TFC, but those numbers need context. Half of América's shots came after Toronto went up 3-1 (TFC had just one more), and Greg Vanney's men were more than happy to concede possession over the last 30 minutes of the match. The expected goals total provided by Opta show an even game excluding Toronto's penalty kick, with America sitting on 1.1 expected goals and Toronto on 1.07. Penalties add an expected goals value of .79.
Before the quarterfinal round, América sat in first place in Liga MX and many people on this side of the border were saying that this was the best team in the league. That is simply not the case. A look at how Tigres have managed the regular season over the past couple of years, starting slowly and turning it up over the last half, is one example why Liga MX standings through eight or nine matches don't mean much.
Flash Zone Interviews: Toronto v America | @torontofc@ClubAmerica#SCCL2018pic.twitter.com/WCUCTkBVlO— THE CHAMPIONS (@TheChampions) April 4, 2018
Miguel Herrera's team relies on a 34-year-old center forward (Oribe Peralta) and a 23-year-old Paraguayan playmaker (Cecilio Dominguez) whose transfermarkt value, admittedly not the best way to evaluate a player, is almost three times less than that of Miguel Almiron. The strength of the team rests in the central midfield, but Guido Rodriguez and Mateus Uribe failed to make their mark on this match. The center back pairing boasts a lot of potential, including a rising El Tri star in Edson Alvarez, yet they have seen few forward partnerships like TFC's.
Bottom line, this isn't the same team that won back-to-back CCL titles in 2015 and 2016. Take Herculez Gomez's word for it.
"This Club América team is not the team that came back in 2015 [against Montreal] 5-3 ... That team was better, this team doesn’t know who they are," said the former Santos Laguna and Toronto striker on Wednesday morning on ESPN Deportes.
Right back Paul Aguilar has dealt with a massive knee injury since then. Peralta has gotten older. They don't have two in-their-prime attackers in Darwin Quintero (Minnesota United's latest recruit) and Dario Benedetto. Their creative options aren't at the level of Rubens Sambueza and Osvaldo Martinez.
The player (Andres Ibarguen) who made the weaving run through TFC's defense has not scored a goal in Liga MX since arriving in January. The striker (Henry Martin) who had America's lone big chance over the final 30 minutes scored four goals in four years with Club Tijuana before getting off to a hot start with his new club in January. He scored five goals in five matches, including a hat trick vs. Lobos BUAP, but has not started a match since mid-February.
Joe Corona chases Sebastian Giovinco | USA Today Sports Images
Going to Estadio Azteca for the second leg of a semifinal is no joke, but TFC have already gotten a result at El Volcan in this tournament, an atmosphere some could argue is more intense.
It's true that this series does not end Liga MX supremacy in this tournament. Toronto are a special team and we saw what happened last year when a not-great MLS team went up against a great Liga MX team.
Club América could win 2-0 and get by Toronto, but the 3-1 result was a good one. Going for another goal would've been naive and possibly hazardous, giving their opponents' better opportunities on the other end. A team with the quality of TFC should be capable of withstanding the pressures of Azteca and hold on to the aggregate lead.
Next Tuesday, we'll find out if they can.