TFC moved on to the quarterfinals of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday night following a 0-0 draw against the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field, advancing 2-0 on aggregate by dint of a first-leg away win.
“Our job today was to go through, we did that,” said head coach Greg Vanney post-match. “We did what we needed to do and learned a little more about ourselves as we go into Saturday against Columbus, and then look ahead to the next round.”
The glaring statistic for Toronto was that of 16 shots directed at goal, just three hit the target. That’s not to say there weren't any chances: Justin Morrow dragged an early shot wide of the far post broken through down the left, and Sebastian Giovinco poked an effort wide of the upright when Jonathan Osorio found him tiptoeing through the Rapids.
“I'm not overly concerned,” said Vanney of the profligacy. “We're getting into good spots. Our guys know they need to hit the target. That was the day a little bit, the field a little, execution a little. We understand as you move forward you have to play better because you come across better opponents.”
Then there was the scare around the 25-minute mark, when Jozy Altidore dropped to the turf, apparently unwell. Reportedly suffering an upset stomach, TFC’s striker required attention on the field before jogging off and heading straight to the locker room.
“Yeah, [he's OK],” relayed Vanney. “I don't know exactly what happened, it was just a slight roll of the ankle, but he seems to be fine.”
Now 180 minutes into the 2018 season, Vanney said his side was “potentially ahead” of where he thought they would be at this point.
“It's tough to say,” he said. “We had some good moments, some where we were too far apart. The solution was to get closer together defensively, pick up balls in better areas, start our attacks in better areas, and take over control, which is what happened in the last 30 minutes. We were a little more connected and the game turned.”
In part, situation dictated how the game would be played.
“We were up 2-0, so the onus [wasn't on us] to spread ourselves out and win the game,” said Vanney. “It's the way 180-minute games are played: You get through. That's what you're supposed to do. People forget that, they forgot that in the playoffs. If you can get yourself a lead from the road, you utilize that lead.”
“These are knockout games. It's whatever it takes, just like the MLS Cup Playoffs,” said the Homegrown midfielder. “It's good we kept a zero on our net and we'll build from that.”
TFC begin their MLS title defense on Saturday when Columbus Crew SC come to town (1 pm ET | TSN1/4/5 in Canada, MLS LIVE in US). Next Wednesday the Champions League adventure continues with the first leg of a high-profile encounter with Mexican side Tigres UANL at BMO Field.
Alex Bono was adamant that Toronto are ready to defend their titles.
“Of course. We've gone through the stretches of the season where we are going Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday,” said the goalkeeper. “We know we have a ton of talented depth; that we have a great starting 11, whoever we decide to put on the field for any game going forward.
“For us, it's all about focusing on playing our game, our style, making teams adjust to the way we play,” continued Bono. “If we can do that, we can make teams worry about the dangers and talents we have. It gives us a leg up on our competition.”
The side refuses to look more than one game in the future, but next week’s meeting with the Mexican champions is enticing, to say the least.
“Our group is excited,” said Vanney. “This is why we've been looking forward to this event: to play the best teams possible. Tigres took care of their business. We know they're one of the best in North America. This is a fantastic series. We look forward to it.”