It all comes down to this.
Toronto FC have been preparing for this moment since preseason began back in January. In truth, it has been on their minds far longer than that.
Having won the treble of MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, and Voyageurs Cup last season, one trophy case at the BMO Training Ground remains empty: the one where the Concacaf Champions League trophy is meant to reside.
With a 3-1 advantage from the first leg, Toronto takes to the pitch at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on Tuesday night, where they will face Club América in the semifinals of the competition.
Their aim is clear.
“The objective from the beginning has been to be in this tournament until the end, give ourselves a chance to win the trophy,” said club captain Michael Bradley on Monday. “That's the only thing that counts.”
They dispatched the Colorado Rapids in the Round of 16, setting up a quarterfinal date with Tigres UANL. With an advantage from the first leg, TFC withstood a trip into El Volcan, emerging with an aggregate draw, away goals the decider.
And now, it is Club América who stands in the way.
“The road has been difficult,” said Bradley. “Tigres, one of the best Mexican teams over the last [few] years, América as well. With their history, the size and stature of the club, it's another big challenge.”
The message to his players from Greg Vanney is: “We have to play smart.”
“We can't come here, sit in and bunker, and expect for 90 minutes to withstand the kind of pressure and talent that Club América has,” continued Vanney. “We have to play a game that makes sense for us, play within the vision of how we want games to look. We've got to attack; to score goals. Our goal is to come in and play the game as if it is 0-0 and we're just playing the one game.”
It will not just be the eleven on the pitch for Club América, the substitutes, the rest of the club, and coach Miguel 'El Piojo' Herrera who confronts Toronto on the night, but the roiling cauldron that is the Azteca, expected to be packed with supporters of Las Aguilas.
“It's football, right?” said Bradley of the reception his side expects. “There is passion, emotion... that's how it is supposed to be.”
“A lot is on the line: two big teams with big players going after things in a hard way,” continued Bradley. “There is big respect, on both sides, for one another. And I certainly expect things to get cranked up a few more notches tomorrow night.”
The atmosphere, the altitude, the possibility of rain, for Bradley, “when that whistle blows none of the conditions on the outside matter.”
“We can't control any of these things,” said Bradley. “The part for us that is most important is making sure we're ready to step on the field go after things in a good way.”
The key to the match, according to Vanney, is, “we have to defend well.”
“[Club América] are very capable of scoring goals,” cautioned the TFC manager. “In the moments that we are able to create opportunities, we have to execute. We don't think we're going to come here and dominate possession, [but] we've got to be good with the ball. And get a goal or two.”
All need be mustered for an occasion such as this.
“To win big games you need everything: mentality, bravery, tactically, you have to be very good,” detailed Bradley. “When you have moments with ball, to put the game on your terms, you have to be sharp and confident. When there are openings to attack you have to take those and make sure you are able to punish the opponent.”
“We have a group that has been on the field on a lot of big nights together. We understand what it means, what it takes,” continued Bradley. “We'll need to draw on all those experiences tomorrow.”
Toronto has been tested through such contests before. Over the last three years, in ten consecutive two-legged series, through the Champions League, MLS Cup Playoffs, and Canadian Championships, Toronto has found a way to be the last team standing.
They will look to do so once more.
“We feel good about the team we have; we like the position we're in,” said Bradley. “But we also understand we're only halfway through, there are still 90 minutes left to play.”
“When you play against a very good team like América, you have to expect when they get chance to come home, they are going to give everything to turn things around,” added Bradley. “We're excited. We know it'll be a great game. Nights like this are what it is all about.”