After taking down the reigning Liga MX champions in their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 series against Club Leon, Toronto FC didn't exactly draw an easier matchup in the tournament's quarterfinals.
Not only do the Reds have another Liga MX foe, they have the team that is currently residing atop the table in the Mexican topflight in Cruz Azul, who are currently riding a stretch of 16 straight unbeaten matches. They might be the hottest team in Concacaf at the moment, something Toronto FC midfielder Marky Delgado said his team is well aware of ahead of Tuesday's (10 pm ET | FS1, TUDN) quarterfinal opener at Raymond James Stadium.
"Nothing really favors us, but we tell our own story, nobody can do that for us," Delgado said on a Sunday video call. "We write our own story, we're the ones who step out on that field and we're the ones who can control what's going to happen out there. We've just got to prepare the best we can for what's to come, do our homework and find solutions, find the answers in how we can be effective, how we can be our best on the day against a good team like Cruz Azul."
If there's an MLS team that has both the talent and experience level to give Cruz Azul everything they can handle in a series like this, Toronto FC might just be it.
The Reds have been one of the league's most successful clubs in CCL in recent years, coming agonizingly close to being the first MLS team to win the modern iteration of the tournament when they lost to Chivas Guadalajara in penalty kicks in the 2018 final. They also are coming off vanquishing another high-level Liga MX opponent in reigning league champ Club Leon in the Round of 16, a series that Delgado said his team can take certain lessons from and apply to the upcoming matchup.
"I think [the strategy is] the same for Leon," Delgado said. "We got a big point in Mexico and then we came home and we battled. We stuck it to them, fought for the whole 90-plus minutes. We didn't just sit back, we played our style, we came at them, put them under pressure. We're going to do the same thing for Cruz Azul. We're going to battle, we're going to fight, we're not going to sit back, we're going to be out there on top of them. So hopefully we can continue this good run that we have going on and get a result.
"We do that, we get our bodies right, and come game time we have to be effective in every way. We have to be sharp, we have to be ready to go when the whistle goes."
Toronto head coach Chris Armas said he feels good about where his team is at going into the matchup, with the knowledge of the difficulty of the task at hand. The Reds are getting closer to full health (although Alejandro Pozuelo is reportedly not on the gameday roster submitted to Concacaf and Richie Laryea is suspended for yellow card accumulation), and Armas echoed Delgado in saying that the team's previous CCL success is the type of experience that can be leaned on when approaching such a high-stakes matchup.
"We're excited for the matchup. We were excited for the Leon matchup, we knew it would pose certain challenges for us. Now this poses lots of different challenges for us that we think we'll be ready for," Armas said. "But we are excited on the inside here at TFC. Look, we know it's a team that, they've been hard to beat. They've been on quite a run. They're a powerful team, they're a team that plays very direct, which makes it difficult. But we do know that it will be about field position and understanding where they want to play the game and how they get there. So, easier said than done, but we think we have a good understanding of what we'll be up against. It's really about us and about executing now.
"It's pretty clear that they're a good team and how they go about that. Like against Leon, we understand the challenge and it's easy to talk about it, but we understand that we have enough. We have a team that's ready, we're getting healthier and we have a lot of confidence that we can put them in a difficult game."