TORONTO – A little more than six months will have elapsed since the two champions met.
Back in March, Toronto FC and Tigres UANL provided the tie of the 2018 Concacaf Champions League, each winning at home with Toronto emerging victorious on away goals when the series ended 4-4. It could be argued it was a match-up more befitting of a final.
A rematch is set for Wednesday night at BMO Field in the first edition of the Campeones Cup between the champions of MLS and the champions of Liga MX (8:15 pm ET | ESPN2, Univision in US; TSN, TVAS 2 in Canada).
Both sides are now in a different place: Toronto find themselves on the outside of the MLS playoff positions with the clock ticking, while Tigres are off to their traditional slow start to the 2018 Torneo Apertura.
Just don't tell TFC that was what has happened since has diminished their accomplishment one iota.
“We don't care about anybody believing what we did before was a fluke,” said defender Eriq Zavaleta on Monday. “We believe it was real and showed that it was. We've got a chance to show again that, while it's been a tough year for us in the league, we're still one of the best teams in North America and we're going to prove that.”
For Tigres, it is a chance at revenge against the side that denied them a shot at the CCL crown they so desire.
“They're going to want to come after us to get a win, to make up for lost causes in Champions League,” said Zavaleta. “And we're going to not want to give up a trophy at home to anybody, so I expect it to be a good game.”
Neither side has changed much, personnel-wise, since those two legs.
“They are the same,” said TFC midfielder Victor Vazquez, despite Tigres' mixed results. “The Mexican league is weird sometimes. You can start bad, like they started this season, but they always come back because they have the players. They have [Andre-Pierre] Gignac, he is amazing, always scores goals. They will be in the playoffs for sure.”
A hard-fought CCL series from the off, Toronto were able to take a 2-1 lead from the first leg into El Volcan, despite conceding first.
“Our formula when they were here was to find ways to be aggressive, put the game on our terms as much as we can and throw them out of their game,” explained Toronto head coach Greg Vanney. “We'll look for our chances to be that team, but we don't want to get separated. They've got too much talent for a game like that.”
“We've got to be organized,” stressed Vanney. “In our moments where have the ball, we've got to use it wisely. Defensively, we've got to stay compact. We don't want to sit off let them come as us for 90 minutes.”
The key word for Toronto is “controlled.”
“The important thing about playing teams that can punish you on the attacking end is that you can control the game and make it look the way we want it to,” said Zavaleta. “Both teams like to play and play on the ground, the field wasn't necessarily as conducive to it back in March as it is now.”
Having survived Tigres and gotten through Club América before losing on penalty kicks to Chivas, Toronto feels a certain level of familiarity heading into the Campeones Cup. Mexican opposition suits them.
“We feel comfortable because they also like to play soccer,” said Vazquez. “That is what we try to do. If you start the game well, move the ball fast and they are having trouble with the pressure and they don't have the ball, they start to suffer like we do when we don't have the ball.”
“That's why we succeeded in the past,” added Vazquez. “Because we did it well. We faced them like a big team. We didn't feel like we were lower than them; that MLS is lower than the Mexican league. I don't think so in our case.”