Toronto FC dropped the opening leg of the CCL final to Chivas 2-1, with Alan Pulido's free kick in the 72nd minute giving the Liga MX side a second away goal and an aggregate edge to take home.

By Avi Creditor
April 17, 2018

A week of fanfare and analysis made it seem like it was Toronto FC's Concacaf Champions League final to lose, and for good reason. Based on the evidence of the last couple of rounds, TFC has been far more impressive and dynamic than Chivas de Guadalajara and ousted better competition along the way. Yet after just over a minute, the MLS side was dealt a sobering reminder that nothing can be taken for granted. Especially for an MLS team, and especially on this specific stage. And after seemingly rebounding and taking control, TFC was hit with a gut punch yet again.

Toronto FC dropped the opening leg of the CCL final to Chivas 2-1, with Alan Pulido's free kick in the 72nd minute giving the Liga MX side a second away goal and an aggregate edge to take home.

Toronto FC bounced back nicely after conceding a second-minute away goal to Rodolfo Pizarro, getting an equalizer from Jonathan Osorio and turning up the pressure after that. But the Reds were unable to pad their tally, and they go to Mexico for next week's second leg at a disadvantage after letting in a back-breaking second.

Here are three thoughts on an entertaining first leg to the CCL final:

Disastrous home leg for Toronto FC

Perhaps it was Toronto FC's opening few minutes that induced multiple vomiting spells from Jozy Altidore during the first half. Needing to play a sound defensive game to avoid letting away goals factor in for Chivas, TFC was burned on a throw-in just over a minute after the opening kick. California-born Isaac Brizuela sent in a cross that was dummied to Pizarro, who finished first-time for a stunning 1-0 lead.

Credit to Toronto for not allowing that to snowball and taking control of the game after that point, but that's an inexcusable goal to concede. Toronto got its equalizer through Osorio and had ample chances to go ahead afterwards (more on that below), but the hosts failed to convert and then committed the cardinal sin of going behind again. Goalkeeper Alex Bono, who has been so solid for TFC all competition long, failed to play Pulido's dangerous but saveable free kick correctly, having it sail over his head and into the back of the net to make it 2-1.

Perhaps Sebastian Giovinco deserved a penalty after Pulido's go-ahead strike (OK, he definitely deserved a penalty), but MLS teams should know better than to rely on the referee's whistle in Concacaf competition.

If there's a silver lining, it's that none of TFC's stars sitting on yellow card were booked. The merits of Concacaf's yellow card accumulation rule notwithstanding, Altidore, Michael Bradley, Giovinco, Osorio and Drew Moor avoided cards that would have ruled them out of the second leg. But what was supposed to be a celebratory sendoff for TFC into its second leg turned into a disaster–though one that is not unsalvageable. 

Toronto leaves opportunities on the table

Will TFC rue its missed first-leg opportunities? We obviously won't know for sure until the second leg is complete, but Toronto would have given itself an advantage and left itself plenty of margin for error for the second leg had it converted on any of its number of chances. They weren't garden variety, either. On two occasions, perfect back-heel passes set up Altidore for a would-be go-ahead goal.

First, Osorio turned in one to set up the U.S. forward after a beautiful team sequence:

Giovinco, who helped spark that earlier sequence, then delivered the decisive pass via the rare back-heel/nutmeg combination, only for Altidore to have his chance saved.

In the 47th, Giovinco played provider again, sending a slow cross into Delgado's path for him to strike with power, only for him to put his open chance high of the mark.

Moor, pushing very forward into a striker's position on an attack in the 59th minute, took a ball from Altidore in the center of the box, only to have his chance deflected wide.

Goals were there for the taking for Toronto, they just simply weren't taken. Forget the conceded goals Tuesday night–the difference between champion and runner-up could simply be reduced to the ones that were not scored.

Toronto FC Cultivates Winning Formula to Put Club on Cusp of Historic CCL Title

How TFC can fight back

TFC has run the gauntlet in this competition, and no stage in Mexico is too daunting for this experienced, tested side. TFC put the finishing touches on Club America at the Azteca in the semifinals, and it did the same to Tigres UANL in Monterrey in the quarterfinals. The big difference here, though, is that TFC carried first-leg advantages into those away legs and not an aggregate deficit. Toronto tied at America and lost at Tigres, even though the end result was advancement. It'll need a win next week.

Chivas will likely be set up to defend its lead and strike on the counter, much like it did in the second leg of the semifinals against the New York Red Bulls, when it was outshot 20-1 only to happily settle for a 0-0 draw. Toronto will have to be aggressive, but smart, knowing a two-goal win gets the job done, a 2-1 win pushes the final to penalties and any other one-goal win secures the trophy on away goals. All of those outcomes are attainable and within reason.

The Champions League is not a forgiving stage, though, and the two concessions plus the wasted chances mean there's plenty of work to be done in Mexico next week in order for an MLS team to capture the CCL trophy at last. If Toronto was the favorite going into this final, it most certainly is not now.

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