Manning told MLSsoccer.com last week that he thinks TFC’s run to the CCL final against Liga MX club Chivas de Guadalajara, which will begin on Tuesday at BMO Field (8:15 pm ET; TSN in Canada | UDN, go90.com in US), is the most impressive performance by an MLS team in the history of the competition.
“I do think it’s the best run in MLS history,” he said. “But again, if you’ve learned anything about this team, they’re not satisfied yet. We’ve got one more to go.”
He’s speaking from a position of authority. Manning was president of Real Salt Lake when the club became the first team in MLS history to make the CCL final in 2011. Salt Lake beat Columbus Crew SC in the quarterfinals and took down Saprissa in the semis before losing a heartbreaking final to Monterrey.
RSL’s run came four years before Montreal became the second MLS team to advance to the CCL final in 2015. The underdog Impact surprised that year, beating Liga MX squad Pachuca and Costa Rican outfit Alajuelense in the knockouts before falling to Mexican giants Club America in the final.
Toronto took a different route to this year’s final. Unlike RSL and Montreal, they didn’t have to navigate a group stage after Concacaf turned the CCL into a 16-team knockout competition last year. And unlike RSL and Montreal, TFC faced two Mexican clubs in the knockout rounds.
These weren’t just any Mexican clubs, either. Toronto drew perhaps the two biggest teams on the entire continent in Tigres and America. They dispatched both, winning a nail-biter of a quarterfinal against tournament favorite Tigres before taking out America with comparative ease in the semis.
Beating Tigres and America was enough for Manning to declare TFC’s run to the final more impressive than either RSL’s or Montreal’s.
“Just Tigres, what they’ve done in Mexican league over the last three or four years, playing in Copa Libertadores, they were clearly the CCL favorite going into the draw. For us to beat a team of that pedigree alone I think makes this the most impressive run,” he said. “And then obviously beating Club America, which has been a very, very impressive team over the last three or four years, that adds to it.”
Toronto’s run has a markedly different feel than RSL’s did in 2011 or Montreal’s did in 2015. That Salt Lake team felt a bit ahead of its time, an excellent squad that had the talent to compete with Liga MX’s best even as most of the rest of MLS lagged behind. Montreal’s run was magical, but it felt a little bit like a pre-Didier Drogba flash in the pan after the Impact endured a brutal 2014 MLS season.
Neither team felt like they had the staying power of 2017 treble winners TFC, who are favored in the final and are riding a broader wave of improved MLS performances in recent editions of the CCL.
“I think the results speak for themselves in terms of the Mexican teams’ [historic] dominance, but I think the gap is closing and I think it will continue to close,” Manning said. “I think this Toronto FC team we have is a special team; I think that it’s a team that will continue to go places even beyond this run we’re making now. But I think that the last two seasons, I think our league has made a big statement that this is a priority competition for us and we can go toe-to-toe with some of Mexico’s best.”
Of course, Toronto’s run won’t mean much if they don’t finish the job. Manning knows that, and promised they’ll be prepared as they look to make even more history by winning the CCL.
“I felt we were as prepared as any MLS team has ever been to advance in this competition and I think we’ve proven that,” he said. “I believe that the way the team are approaching the Concacaf champions league is we can make history again. We kind of did it with the treble last year, but this is another opportunity to do something that no other MLS team has done and we’re going in it to win it. I think maybe in the past a lot of MLS teams went in to maybe get by a couple of rounds or get through the group stage, but this team went into this competition to win it.”