Ralph Priso – Toronto FC – CCL

Any MLS team heading to Mexico for Leg 2 of a Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series would confront plenty of obstacles, regardless of the scoreline.

That Toronto FC face a 3-1 aggregate deficit before Tuesday’s test at famed Estadio Azteca (10:15 pm ET | FS1, TUDN) only makes the challenge before Chris Armas’ team all the more formidable.

But TFC’s head coach, who’s still in the early days on the job, is embracing what lies ahead. With the away goals rule, they’ll need at least three goals at their Liga MX foe to book a semifinal ticket. If Cruz Azul scores, the permutations get more complex.

“We can create chances against them,” Armas said. “It has to be one play at a time, it has to be one goal at a time and we have to play for 90 minutes. This is what’s important, this is what’s going to make a difference. Whether that’s against Cruz Azul or Leon or an MLS team, we will focus on the things we can control, understanding that every team can be beat. We’re going to fight for every minute.”

Toronto already navigated past Club Leon, 3-2 on aggregate, during the Round of 16. But in last week’s first leg at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, they let La Maquina grab an early lead and depart Florida with a dream result.

Cruz Azul, winners of the 2014 CCL tournament, are also first in the Liga MX Clausura season. Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who scored in Leg 1, is keenly aware of what’s required.

“This is a team that’s in very good form, not only in this tournament but in the league as well,” Osorio said. “[They’re] a team that’s playing very [true] to their identity, but at the same time it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge we’re up for and I think we’re excited about it. The game is not over, the game is not over. There's a whole 90 minutes to play and anything can happen in 90 minutes.”

One potential advantage for Toronto is they had a Week 3 bye for the MLS season. While Atlanta, Columbus, Philadelphia and Portland – the league’s four other CCL representatives – were competing and rotating their squad, the Reds were resting up and preparing.


Armas said winger Yeferson Soteldo, their newly-acquired Designated Player, didn’t travel with the squad while going through quarantine. They’re also still waiting for Alejandro Pozuelo, the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP, to make his 2021 season debut. A positive update is center back Chris Mavinga should be available.

It all contributes to Toronto needing near-perfection to advance in CCL. The winner will face either Columbus or CF Monterrey in the semifinals, which get underway in August.

“The way they see the game is that their best defense is attack and where they want to play the game,” Armas said. “I think that with their history of Cruz Azul – they have a slight reputation of being in some big moments and not following through – I expect them to be on full attack, play in our end, stick to what has been successful for them, which is direct play and trying to attack us.

"In that, I think there’ll be big opportunities for us if we defend properly and can win a second ball, that we create opportunities."