Toronto FC have a mammoth task ahead of them.
Following a 3-1 defeat in the home leg of their 2021 Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series against Cruz Azul last week, TFC are in Mexico ahead of the second leg on Tuesday at famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
The simplest path to the semifinals is a 3-0 victory.
“It's a good challenge for us, something that we're up for,” said Jonathan Osorio during Monday’s pre-match Zoom press conference, following some technical difficulties. “We have to score goals so we have no choice but to play the game in an aggressive way.”
“That's good for us,” he smiled. “That puts us in a good mentality to go after the game and to be the aggressors and the ones controlling it.”
Off from MLS action this past weekend, Chris Armas’ side got some much needed rest after a busy start to the season.
The game comes too early for new signing Yeferson Soteldo to join, same for Alejandro Pozuelo, but Chris Mavinga is available for his first appearance of the season.
“The week has been good for us,” said Armas. “For guys to recover, to be fresh come kick off. It’s been a nice little breather, especially with the schedule that we've had up to that point. We've used it wisely.”
“We'll be ready to go,” he continued. “We'll need every bit of rest and strength going in.”
The best laid plans for the opening 90 minutes were dashed when Cruz Azul took the lead inside of three minutes. Osorio replied for Toronto, but a pair of headers put the then visitors into the driver’s seat.
“I don’t think the scoreline represented how the game went exactly,” recalled Osorio. “We wanted to do better on set-pieces and they were better on the day. A lot more hungry in that part of the game. We're going to make sure that that's not the case for this game.”
“And then we have to make sure that we capitalize on our chances. There will be chances there for us,” he continued. “We believe in our team and that we’re not out of this tie. Anything can happen in football.”
Cruz Azul completed the regular season portion of the Liga MX Torneo Guardianes 2021 on the weekend, drawing 1-1 with Club Tijuana to secure first place. They now await the results of the reclassification playoff to discover who their opponents will be come the quarterfinals of the Liguilla, the final phase of the Liga MX season.
Toronto were well aware of what they were up against for the first leg. Now they have 90 minutes of additional, first-hand information at their disposal.
“They have a very specific way of playing and even if they try to do some different things, they're really good at specific things,” outlined Armas. “They're a very direct team. They're powerful, they can run, they’re good against the ball, meaning they take away time and space quickly; they're good on set pieces.”
“We have to bring our style to play. We have to be good at what we're doing,” he countered. “We have to put pressure on the ball, we have to, structurally, stay together so we can win second balls and then it becomes a game about transition. What we learned most is that if we can control transition, we can take advantage and we can create chances.”
Despite the lead, there is no chance Cruz Azul will take their foot off the gas.
“No,” replied Armas curtly when asked. “The way they see the game is that their best defense is attack.”
“With their history, a slight reputation of being in some big moments and not following through, I expect them to be on full attack, playing in our end, and sticking to what has been successful for them,” he elaborated. “In that, there will be a big opportunities for us if we can defend properly.”
The first leg showed glimpses of possibility for TFC.
“They're obviously a good team, in a winning way, but when we're at our best we can create chances against them. There haven't been games that we don't score,” Armas highlighted. “It's a challenge, but we’re up for it.”
“We understand what it's going to take to be successful,” he continued. “The way we're going to approach it is one play at a time, one minute at a time. Start the game fast, start the game right; one goal at a time.”
It’s half-time in the series.
“We have to score three, so to score early is important, but if it doesn't come, I don't think we have to panic,” said Osorio. “If they score it doesn't really change much for us.”
“The start of the game is going to be important to set the tone for the rest of the match,” he closed. “We’re going there to score three goals, we have 90 minutes to do it.”