In the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on March 11, Toluca did something that very few teams do. But not in a good way.
The Mexican club controlled 65 percent of the possession against the San Jose Earthquakes but were only able to get one shot on target, albeit one that provided their only goal in a 1-1 draw.
This occurrence is rare, although maybe not as rare as one might think: Since 2010, of the 265 times an MLS team controlled at least 60 percent of a regular-season game's posssession, only 14 were held to one or zero shots on target. What makes this number especially significant ahead of Wednesday's second leg (8 pm ET, FOX Sports 2, Univision Deportes), is that San Jose limited Toluca's scoring chances with a back line whose members had never played as a unit in an official game.
While the one shot - and goal - came on a defensive mishit by Jason Hernandez, the Quakes were successful in limiting Toluca’s chances by not allowing successful crosses. When playing in Liga MX this season, Toluca average the third most completed crosses per game among all teams, but when they faced San Jose last week, they completed just one all game.
While defenders Hernandez, Victor Bernardez, Jordan Stewart and Brandon Barklage and goalkeeper Jon Busch deserve plenty of credit, one also has to consider who was serving those crosses and who was trying to receive them. Or, more accurately, who was not.
Miguel Ponce and Oscar Rojas, coming from their fullback positions, are two of the most prolific crossers in Liga MX. Both players average more than three open-play crosses per game, and Rojas ranks third among all players in Liga MX, averaging 4.6 open-play crosses per game. Neither player started for Toluca in San Jose, but both are likely to play at home on Wednesday night.
Another player who did not start in the last game was Pablo Velazquez. He has been one of the top strikers in Liga MX since coming to Toluca in the summer of 2013. Normally adept at getting his head on the end of crosses, he is tied atop the Liga MX rankings in terms of headed shots this season. Expect him to start on Wednesday night after not seeing the field in the last game.
The Quakes' back line handled Toluca’s attack exceptionally well in their first meeting, but with San Jose's defense severely depleted by injuries and a suspension to Bernardez for yellow-card accumulation, the Earthquakes will be challenged to handle Toluca’s ferocious attackers again. If they want to advance, San Jose will have to deal with Toluca's starters on the road at altitude, something very few teams do successfully.