TORONTO – Midweek regional competition is back for Toronto FC.
It has been some time since the club took part in the CONCACAF Champions League. But come Tuesday night in Denver against the Colorado Rapids, TFC will embark on their fifth appearance in the competition, their first since the 2012-13 edition.
As twice-defending Canadian Championship winners and 2017 MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield Champions, Toronto have earned the return, something they are very much looking forward to.
“It's a chance to experience this and measure ourselves,” said Greg Vanney on Saturday. “But we're keen and aware our goal is to win this championship.”
“It starts in Colorado, a tough opponent, in our league,” continued Vanney. “They're going through some changes as a club, so there are some things we don't quite know about them yet, but they're going to be a tough side.”
Though it will be a first for much of the current TFC roster, for the longest-serving member, Ashtone Morgan, it will bring back fond memories.
Morgan made his debut for the first team back in the 2010 competition before signing a professional contract ahead of the 2011 season.
“Against [Armando Cooper's] Arabe Unido,” recalled Morgan, who was then with the TFC Academy. “I still have the boots from that game. My first call-up to the first team. It was a great experience.”
Toronto would finish third in their group that year, behind Bill Manning's Real Salt Lake, who would go on to represent MLS in the Final, and Mexican side Cruz Azul.
But the next year, TFC would go on a run of their own.
“When it came to Wednesday nights and Champions League, we were always locked in, ready, up for the challenge against different teams from different countries,” said Morgan. “We made BMO Field a fortress; had a decent run.”
Dispatching Nicaraguan side Real Esteli in the Preliminary Round, Toronto finished second in the Group Stage, a single point behind UNAM Pumas of Mexico, setting up a Quarterfinal date against David Beckham's LA Galaxy, a key moment in club history.
“We sold out the SkyDome,” marvelled Morgan. “I remember having the first session there, I looked to the very top and [thought], 'Wow, people are going to be sitting all over.'”
It was a glimpse of the passion that Morgan has seen return to the fore of late: “The last few years in the playoffs have recreated that day. It was an amazing feeling for the city, the club, and the team.”
On March 7, 2012, 47,658 fans attended that epic occasion. TFC took an early two-goal lead through Ryan Johnson and Luis Silva, only for Mike Magee to pull one back shortly thereafter, setting up a late equalizer from Landon Donovan.
Toronto would finish the job in the second leg in Los Angeles, winning 2-1 to advance to the Semifinals 4-3 on aggregate, running headlong into Mexican club Santos Laguna.
A 1-1 draw in the home leg set up a potential stunner, but a two-goal performance from Herculez Gomez would spur Santos Laguna to victory, taking the second leg 6-2 to advance to the final, where they lost to fellow Mexican side Monterrey
Such humbling experiences contain valuable lessons.
“It is difficult,” said Morgan of hitting the road in the Champions League. “The conditions; sometimes at altitude.”
“This time around we're well prepared,” confirmed Morgan. “We want to win every competition, every trophy there is to get. When we go down to these places, we will get the job done. Tactically, physically, mentally, we're prepared.”
No matter what the opponent or nature throw their way.
“We've played in every condition,” added Morgan of the frigid forecast. “We'll be ready.”
The journey begins on Tuesday against Colorado, a week later, on Tuesday, February 27, midweek Champions League action returns to BMO Field.
“I've missed Tuesday and Wednesday Champions League nights,” said Morgan. “It's a great feeling; an extra trophy we can add to our closet.”