TORONTO – They may have bowed out of the CONCACAF Champions League on the night, but the Colorado Rapids leave Toronto with their heads held high.
A scoreless draw at BMO Field on Tuesday saw Toronto FC advance 2-0 on aggregate after their first-leg win, while Colorado resume preparations for their season opener on March 10 against the New England Revolution.
“These games have been an incredibly important part of our preseason preparation,” Rapids coach Anthony Hudson said post-match. “We come into this game, two teams at complete [opposite ends] of the spectrum: one team finished top of the table, one at the bottom; one has had a squad together for a long time, the other a complete rebuild.
“After tonight we have disappointment, not going through,” he added. “But the players can be incredibly proud of themselves over the two legs. We've seen another step forward with our new team: a strong performance away against the champions.”
In 2017, 36 points separated TFC and the Rapids in the standings, a gap larger than the 33 points that Colorado amassed. Earning a draw on the road against Toronto is something to build on.
“We've seen a ton of improvement,” said Marlon Hairston. “It's always tough to come to Toronto; they're the champions for a reason. They're a great team; the fans were great tonight, tough environment. But credit to us, we stuck through it, created a bunch of chances for ourselves to win the game. It's good for us to come out with a positive result. Unfortunate not to move on to the next round, but we'll start the season on the right foot.”
The Rapids nearly took the lead late in the first half when Dominique Badji broke free, only to see his low drive carom off the base of the post.
“What you want to do as a forward is hit the target,” said Hairston. “He did his job. Unfortunately the ball didn't bounce in the ways we wanted it to tonight.”
Hudson was adamant that his side earned some respect on the night.
“Everyone in this room wrote Colorado off. We can all be clear on that,” he said. “Everyone was talking about Toronto in the next round.
“I hope the team gets credit because for 60 minutes [we] were the better team,” continued Hudson. “At the end, Toronto were the stronger team, but to come here and get a [result], a clean sheet … This is preseason for us; that's the bottom line. It's preseason. If this is a preseason game before we lead into our first game of the season, we're very, very happy.”
“The objective was to make sure we're ready for New England,” explained Hudson. “To really tackle this competition, you need to have a winning team, with a squad that has been together for a long time ... you need to be a team like Toronto. We're not in that position.”
“Tim played last week,” he added. “All of our planning and thinking is about being ready for New England on the 10th of March.”
It has been an eventful first week in MLS for Hudson, enduring last week’s biting cold in Colorado, then coming into the home of the champions and going toe-to-toe.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Hudson of the experience. “Toronto, great stadium, fans, top team. We have shown again we have nothing to fear.
“Last week was my first game at home, in the conditions we all saw. One of the biggest things that stood out to me [was] the fans that came out in those conditions were incredible,” recalled Hudson. “I left the game that day thinking we had loads of fans there, singing through those conditions. It was unbelievable.”
“I hope our fans have watched this game, can see what we're trying to do, how we're trying to build the team and trying to play,” concluded Hudson. “I'm very proud of our players tonight.”
Champions League is gone; now that March 10 meeting in New England with the Revolution awaits.
“The group is ready,” said Hairston. “We still have a few guys coming in. Everybody is getting to know each other, become a family already. We're ready to put last year behind us. Tonight was a great step for us; we'll go in to our first game prepared.”