TORONTO – The preparation starts now.
Toronto FC were already back at their BMO Training Ground on Thursday, getting in some regeneration and sizing up the next task at hand: an away day against Tigres UANL in Nuevo Leon, Mexico on Tuesday, in the second leg of their 2018 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series (10 pm ET | UDN, go90.com in US).
On Wednesday night at BMO Field the defending MLS Cup champions rallied after conceding the opener, striking twice in the final half-hour to take a 2-1 lead to Mexico.
“It's a good start for us,” said coach Greg Vanney post-match. “I don't think any of us consider it a win just yet. We've given ourselves an advantage as we go there.
“Today was at a certain level of intensity, but we know there it's going to be a whole different level when we get down to Mexico. You're playing the champions, who don't want to lose this series in front of their home crowd in their own stadium,” he continued. “We've got to match that intensity. We're looking forward to the [playing] surface, implement more of what we like to do. I'm sure they're looking for the same. It sets up as an interesting return leg.”
That TFC got the victory without a fully-fit Victor Vazquez adds to the accomplishment.
The Spanish playmaker came on in the 79th minute as TFC pressed for the game-winner. His status – nerve-related back spasms forced him out of the 2-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC on Saturday – will continue to be a question mark over the coming days.
“Victor wasn't physically ready for 90 minutes,” explained Vanney. “Even when we put him in tonight, he started to feel the tightening up again. The good news is we have [almost] a week this time to turn him around. We'll take advantage of that. He felt better today; we're optimistic with rest we can get him moving in the right direction.”
The decision to have him on the bench rather than start had other roots as well. Vanney instead opted to revert to the 3-5-2 formation with Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio alongside Michael Bradley in the midfield.
“We knew what the state of the game was going to be,” said Vanney. “The amount of work, up and down, defensively and in attack, non-stop. Marky and Osorio have done that, in this system, over and over. Their familiarity to what we were trying to do on the night was further along than Ager [Aketxe] or some of the other options.
“Both put a huge amount of work into this game, were very good in their execution,” he continued. “Marky's little touch around the corner is what gets Jozy [Altidore] in for the first goal, and Osorio scoring the second goal. Their understanding of what we were trying to do and their sheer willingness to cover ground is impressive.”
TFC also saw Eriq Zavaleta hobble off in the 85th minute after a goal-saving intervention, though Vanney showed only minimal concern: “It was a knock, not a twist, to the side of the knee. More of a contusion.”
With rest, should both recover, the Reds will head to Mexico with a full roster at their disposal and several addition training sessions under their belt after a busy few weeks. Toronto have a bye from league play this weekend.
“There is an advantage to being able to recover, have a couple sessions to prepare for a tough game,” said Vanney. “But sometimes staying in a rhythm of playing is as well, especially this time of year. Training sessions are going to be beneficial for us before we go down.”
So 90 minutes remain, though the possibility of extra time and penalty kicks exists. Next Tuesday all will be decided.
“It's halftime,” cautioned Altidore. “They got the away goal, which makes things tricky. We have everything to play for. We're a team that is capable of scoring goals as much as they are. Rest up and get ready for a big game.”
Toronto will look to carry the momentum from the first leg into the second.
“We're going to go there with the same mentality,” said Bradley. “To go after them, put them into a game they don't like, aren't comfortable with. In moments when we have the ball, we can put the game on our terms, make them have to deal with us. It should be a great night.”