MLS teams have notoriously failed against Mexican foes for years in the Concacaf Champions League, but the tide turned Tuesday night.

By Avi Creditor
March 14, 2018

With one set of results Tuesday night, perhaps the tide is turning some in the Concacaf Champions League power struggle.

MLS teams have notoriously failed against Mexican foes for years in the competition, but the narrative changed significantly with Toronto FC going into Tigres and eliminating the reigning Liga MX champions on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate draw to follow up the New York Red Bulls' comprehensive 5-1 aggregate win over Club Tijuana.

Both results sent MLS sides into the semifinals and improved the league's mark vs. Mexican sides in CCL knockout ties to 4-18, doubling the number of triumphs for MLS clubs in this stage of the competition (only the Seattle Sounders in 2012-13 and Montreal Impact in 2014-15 had accomplished the feat before). TFC and RBNY could be joined by another MLS team in the last four if the Sounders can hold onto the 1-0 advantage earned in the home leg vs. Chivas Guadalajara.

The Red Bulls kicked off the night with a margin for error after a 2-0 win at Tijuana, but it shrunk immediately when Luis Mendoza put Tijuana on the board in the 10th minute. The game hinged on a remarkable, acrobatic, fingertip save by Luis Robles, who touched a would-be golazo from Mendoza onto the crossbar in the 23rd minute. Had it gone in, it would have leveled the series and away goals with plenty of time to spare.

The Red Bulls regained full control five minutes later on a Tyler Adams goal, and new signings Marc Rzatkowski and Kaku followed suit in the later stages to put the series away. New York will face either Seattle or Chivas in the semifinals.

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Toronto FC followed suit to reach the final four by withstanding a furious late rally and getting some help from Tigres to down the star-studded Mexican side. A Rafael Carioca own goal gave TFC the precious away goal it needed to nullify Tigres's tally at BMO Field in the first leg and a two-goal advantage on aggregate in the 64th minute. Eduardo Vargas gave Tigres hope five minutes later with a goal of his own, but Sebastian Giovinco did what he does best–bury a free kick–in the 73rd to force Tigres to need three in the final 17-plus minutes to go through.

The hosts got two, with Andre-Pierre Gignac scoring in the 84th and 93rd minutes, but the two away goals were enough to see TFC through despite the 3-2 loss on the night and cap a banner night for MLS.

TFC, the Red Bulls and perhaps Seattle will be out to do what only two MLS teams before–Real Salt Lake in 2010-11 and Montreal in 2014-15–have done: reach the final.

There's more work to be done to get there, of course, and should Club America and Chivas manage to advance Wednesday and set up another set of MLS-Liga MX showdowns in the semifinals, they'll surely be out to restore the narrative that has clouded MLS's participation in the event.

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