TORONTO – To be the best, you've got to beat the best.
That is the task that Toronto FC have set for themselves as they prepare for the opening leg of their 2018 Concacaf Champions League semifinal series against Club America on Tuesday night at BMO Field (8 pm ET | TSN in Canada; UDN, go90.com in US).
The club has reached this stage before, back in the 2011-12 edition of the competition, where they lost to Santos Laguna. But this version of TFC — as MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, and Canadian Championship winners — are so much more than that earlier incarnation.
And if they can advance to the final, they would inch closer to yet another of their stated goals.
“It's a great opportunity to take another step forward,” TFC head coach Greg Vanney said. “When we started to build a team, build a culture, a mentality, ultimately it's about trying to win championships. We're in an event that is one of the key [ones] that we want to bring to this club. In that way, it's an important game. But in terms of what we're trying to accomplish as a group, it makes it that much more important.
“We're trying to build a history. It's something that we've talked about,” he continued. “Club America have that history already. They're known as one of the great clubs — something that we're trying to achieve.”
When it comes to Concacaf, there is perhaps no bigger club against which to test one's mettle than Club America: 12-time league and five-time cup winners domestically, seven-time champions in Concacaf (Champions' Cup and Champions League, combined), to name but some of their honors.
But, of course, nothing worth winning comes easy.
“We're in one of those windows of time to start that tradition of being able to win championships,” Vanney said. “[Tuesday] is the start of another time to win a championship. That's what our goal has been, what [the game] is about. We need to approach it with that kind of intensity, attention to detail, discipline and all those things it takes to give ourselves the best chance to get a result going into the second leg.”
TFC's Sebastian Giovinco battles with Tigres midfielder Jesus Dueñas | REUTERS
But as before, Toronto try not to concern themselves with the legacies of those who stand in their way. Tigres UANL, who they dispatched in the quarterfinals, were giants too. So they will not be awed by Club America.
“We're at a stage of this competition where every game is big. No matter who we're playing in the semifinals it's a huge match,” goalkeeper Alex Bono said. “If it was any other team, we'd prepare with the same intensity, the same passion, because as a team one of our goals is to win this tournament.
“It's a big game, obviously. [Not] so much because of the [opponent] — more because of the stage, the place that we are as team, our determination to go on.”
Traditionally, Mexican sides have dominated the competition but his year has proved somewhat different. And now, with the New York Red Bulls squaring off against Chivas in the other semifinal, it's tempting to use these series as a referendum on the superiority between Liga MX and MLS, even if that might not be entirely fair.
“It's an interesting competition and will leave a lot of people talking,” Vanney said. “I don't know if at the end of the day this will determine which league is better. The quality of leagues is about how many good teams you have, what the top quality of the best teams looks like.
“When you measure leagues, it's difficult to do so over an event: it's a handful of teams that play each other a couple of times. It makes for interesting dialogue and conversation, but I don't know if the correlation is so simple.”