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Toronto FC aim to set the tone in first leg matchup with Club América

TORONTO – When the draw was made for the 2018 Concacaf Champions League, it seemed the soccer gods had it out for Toronto FC.

Blocking their path to the final were a pair of Mexican heavyweights: Tigres UANL and Club América

Now, having dispatched Tigres in the quarterfinals, advancing on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate score, Club América stand in their way as the semifinals are set to get underway on Tuesday night at BMO Field (8 pm ET | TSN in Canada; UDN, go90.com in US).

“Very, very good team,” said TFC assistant coach Robin Fraser of this week's opposition. “They have a lot of very good players, well coached, well organized. We have the benefit of having seen them in preseason, gave us an idea of what they're about.”

A little less than two months ago, on February 8, the two sides played a training match, broken into 30-minute three segments, during TFC's preseason. Club América ultimately prevailed 6-3, but Toronto took leads from the opening two periods, where the two fielded sides that looked more akin to their preferred XIs and before the impacts of altitude and match fitness began to bite.

“It was intriguing,” said head coach Greg Vanney during Monday's press conference of the glimpse at their semifinal opponents. “One of our takeaways was how much they value the width of the field. They like to get wide, like to get service; get their wingers on the ball. [Of] the [first] three goals that they scored, one was off a corner kick and two were off crosses.” 

“They were dangerous in other situations,” continued Vanney, but their preference to “get guys in good crossing positions and runners out of midfield, coming off the center backs into positions to head, was interesting.”

Toronto will be hoping that bit of familiarity will be advantageous come Tuesday night's first leg, but so too will be the lessons from the two legs against Tigres.

“These teams value the width more than MLS teams, who play a lot more possession through the middle of the field,” said Vanney. “Trying to get the ball wide, get wingers isolated, trying to create opportunities for service, and then they have people who are attacking the box. That's not the only thing they do, but it's a big priority.” 

“We saw that against [Tigres],” continued Vanney. “Getting [Jurgen] Damm and [Javier] Aquino on the ball and running at our outside backs. We've seen that now a few times. It's imperative that we manage the width better than we did [in preseason]. That's going to be an important part of this series.”

In the opening twenty minutes of the first leg and the closing of the second against Tigres, the Mexican side seemed to attack in waves, utilizing that wide space to their advantage.

For goalkeeper Alex Bono, that was of Toronto's own doing: “We gave them opportunities to continue those waves. If we can limit missed clearances, errant passes, give them less opportunity to pressure us and our backline it will help.”

Tuesday's match may only be the first half of the series, but both sides will be looking to establish an advantage ahead of the second leg a week later in Mexico City's famed Estadio Azteca.

With Toronto at home, it is incumbent upon them to make the most of the occasion, but Club América too will seek to maximize their returns.

“They'll play what the game gives them,” said Vanney. “I don't think they'll come in and just sit back, get out with a result that has a low number on it. My anticipation is they'll come, try to play, try to create turnovers in advantageous positions, play in the transition, look for moments to be aggressive.” 

For their part, TFC know what they want from the home leg: “Our objective is to win the game and get a shutout.”

“Get a lead and try to keep them off the board so that they don't get an away goal,” continued Vanney. “It would be good for us to gain advantage before going down to Azteca.”