The free space is disappointment @MattDoyle76— DutifullyPurple (@AshFernandez10) April 26, 2018
I'm too spent to really think more clearly or eloquently than that. Toronto FC just made an epic Concacaf Champions League run, beating the greatest Liga MX team in history (Club America) and then the best Liga MX team in recent history (Tigres UANL) in succession in the knockout rounds. That'd be the equivalent of offing the Lakers and then the Warriors in back-to-back playoff games.
Then they played Chivas – for the sake of this analogy, we'll call them the Celtics – and became only the fourth MLS team ever to win a game in Mexico. They actually did it! They won the second leg, in Mexico, in the knockout rounds, in the final, getting the result they needed to at least give themselves a coin flip.
All of that was... well, it would've been a lot to believe just two months ago. But here we are.
And what wasn't hard to believe is how it ended. Chivas lost 2-1 in the game, drew 3-3 on aggregate, and won 4-2 on penalties. TFC's epic CCL run ended in disappointment.
Here are three quick thoughts:
1. Man-to-Man all over the Pitch
What RBNY coach Jesse Marsch meant two weeks back when he said that Chivas played a unique style, and that said style called for a unique approach that almost obviated formational concerns is that Matias Almeyda has his team play man-marking all over the field. Wherever you go, they stay with you.
And so that made playing Michael Bradley at center back an actual advantage for the Reds, as it forced Chivas to come higher up the pitch to get pressure to him. TFC took advantage of that space by using Bradley to hit diagonals, overloading the flanks and then providing room for their midfielders to cut across the middle and create chances.
It's not how they got the first goal (that was off a penalty), and it's not how they dominated possession (they didn't, and didn't really want to). But it's how they got Sebastian Giovinco's goal, and how they created multiple chances in the second half.
Several of those could've – should've – been the winner.
2. Having the Ball is Dangerous
Chivas are not a team with any attacking ideas. The two times when they create danger are either off of set pieces, or when they turn you over while you try to play up the middle. That's how they got the only goal in the series against the Red Bulls, and it's how they got their only goal tonight:
Orbelin Pineda gives #Chivas the 1-0 lead on the night vs #TFC, and that makes it 3-1 on aggregate. Osorio lost the ball in midfield to Pizarro, who drove forward and slipped in Pineda. #TFCLive #CVGvTOR #CCL #SCCL2018 pic.twitter.com/UJaNx5sQ6W— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) April 26, 2018
That's it, man. That's it.
3. No Shortcuts
One of the things I've kept saying on our analysis shows is that there are no shortcuts to the top. You take it one rung at a time, and this spring certainly marked significant upward progress.
RBNY became the first team ever to win both legs of a knockout round, pounding Xolos. TFC, as I mentioned at the top, beat America & Tigres. And then they went on the road in the CCL final and got a 90-minute win. Anyone who looks at that and says it's not progress is lying to you, because reality causes them to question their dogma, and is thus painful to them.
But as progress is painful as well. Just as TFC had to lose the 2016 MLS Cup final to become what they wanted to be in 2017, my guess is that they will treat this as another rung on the ladder/evolutionary moment for the franchise. It was both a misstep and a step forward.
On a grander scale, TFC (and the Red Bulls) showed what it takes to really compete for this title. You need significant investment in local players, and in your USL team, and in top-end DPs, and in depth everywhere. You also need to have elite, tactically flexible coaches – Greg Vanney deserves some major credit for how his team came out and played, game after game, this spring.
Unfortunately, you also need at least a little bit of luck. TFC didn't have it tonight and Chivas did.
The free space is disappointment, until it isn't.