TORONTO – Don't tell them something can't be done.
The history of MLS teams against Mexican opposition makes for dire reading. Since 2008, in 75 encounters MLS sides have won just 13 matches. For their part, Toronto FC have a record of one win, three draws, and four losses against Mexican clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League.
But come kickoff on Wednesday night at BMO Field, TFC will look to buck that trend as they take on the reigning Liga MX champions, Tigres UANL, in the first leg of their quarterfinal series.
“It's an important test for us,” said Greg Vanney during the prematch press conference. “We worked hard, did a lot last year, earned the right to be in this tournament, which was one of our objectives. Now it's to win this tournament. The next team we have to play is Tigres, who are champions in their own right. This is the next test.”
To achieve that aim of regional glory, Toronto will have to run a daunting gauntlet of the best North and Central America and the Caribbean have to offer.
This series against Tigres has all the making of an epic: a clash of champions, jaw-dropping international talents on each side, blooded coaches, and colourfully rowdy stadiums. How can one not be excited?
Vanney would not be drawn into the unknowable: “Is it a defining moment? I don't know.”
It's the practical that matters.
“It's imperative that we get through them in order to achieve our goal,” restated Vanney. “They're in the way.”
“We know we have to play well, execute in key moments,” continued Vanney. “When two good teams play each other, it comes down to do you finish your chances and protect your goal. Those are key things we need to take care of in this match.”
Toronto has had a knack for silencing the doubters.
Break the all-time single-season MLS point record? Done. Rebound from the disappointment of a cup final loss to hoist it the next year? Check. Achieve the impossible, a domestic treble? Check, check and check. Put yourself in the conversation as the best ever club in MLS history? Undoubtedly so.
The club has been looking forward to this moment since the middle of last season.
“After we won the Canadian Cup, we were very excited,” said Jonathan Osorio. “It was an objective to play in this tournament.”
“Our reason for that is that this group believes we can beat anybody,” continued Osorio. “We want to prove to the Americas that we can play with the Mexican teams and we can beat them. We have the quality.”
“This is a good test,” echoed Osorio. “This is the best team in Mexico, consistently, for the last few years. To win the tournament you have to beat the best teams. This group is very willing and excited. We're ready to go.”
Though Tigres will be another level, TFC's preseason preparations, a tough series against the Colorado Rapids in the Round of 16, and a tricky league match against Columbus Crew SC have built to this moment.
“The style of play changes a little,” forecast Osorio. “Columbus was a good team, it was good for us to play them before this match.”
Toronto spent a portion of training camp in Mexico with the express purpose of readying for such a possibility.
“We prepared well in preseason,” said Osorio. “We played against Club America. [It] was good to get a sense for what the style of play is in Mexico. It's going to be tough, but it's a test that we're willing and excited to face.”
Osorio is not the only player eagerly awaiting kickoff.
“All the guys [are]. There isn't anyone who isn't excited,” said Vanney. “As much as we've said we go one game at a time, for sure everybody is thinking about this opportunity and is excited about it.”
“I suspect there will be a lot of energy and a lot of passion,” added Vanney. “All those things will go into our performance.”
It is a moment that has been years in the making. One can feel it in their bones; in the pit of the stomach.
“It's a champions league game, everybody is excited,” grinned Chris Mavinga. “We make sure that we put everything on the field on Wednesday. The goal is to win the champions league. We play for the win.”