The date was October 24th, 2012. While in the midst of their worst MLS season ever, Canadian Champions Toronto FC were put out of their misery, officially being knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League by Santos Laguna in front of just under 8,000 onlookers in Torreon. It’s been six long seasons since TFC has had a crack at the CCL, and with a historic MLS domestic treble winning season now in the rear view mirror, there has never been a better time than now to try their hand at continental greatness.
Toronto’s history in the CONCACAF Champions League is an interesting one. Having not qualified for the playoffs of their domestic league for the first 9 years of their existence, TFC has done surprisingly well at competing against some of the best in North and Central America. With a top 4 finish in the 2011-2012 cycle, highlighted by an epic upset victory over the reigning MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy, Toronto’s current squad was built with CCL in mind, and they aren’t quite done building it yet.
The Reds rolled through MLS in 2017, setting records for points in a season among other accolades, culminating in the first Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winning season since the 2011 LA Galaxy. Toronto also added a Canadian Championship victory to their growing trophy case, their 6th title and only route of qualification for the CCL. After losing some key pieces and depth this off-season, including starting RB Steven Beitashour, through free agency and the MLS Expansion Draft, GM Tim Bezbatchenko has done quite the job of filling in the gaps, specifically the additions of Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel and Brazilian youth international Auro.
Preseason training has taken TFC from California to Mexico, where they’ve played several friendlies against quality Mexican sides in preparation for potential Champions League dates. Although many of their Mexican opponents fielded their reserves, they were a decent yardstick for TFC to measure themselves against in addition to acclimatizing themselves to playing at altitude.
TFC’s route to Champions League glory begins in Commerce City, Colorado as the Rapids were drawn as their first opponent. It was quite an unfavourable draw for the Reds, who will likely be facing off against two of Mexico’s top clubs in Tigres UNAL and likely Club America should they get past Colorado. The Rapids are coming off an awful MLS campaign, finishing just 2nd from the bottom of the table in 2017 after winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2016. The Rapids are slowly re-tooling prior to the MLS season kicking off but will find themselves as heavy underdogs against Toronto.
First and foremost, It’s important for Toronto not to overlook the Rapids. Traditionally a bogey team for TFC, the Rapids are in a position to do to Toronto exactly what Toronto did to LA way back in March of 2012, which would be an upset of epic proportions. All signs however are pointing to what will likely be a second round match up against Tigres.
If history is to be relied on, that will likely be the end of the road for the Reds. The talent gap separating MLS clubs and their Mexican counterparts is immense and even a team as stacked by MLS standards as Toronto is, that talent gap is still substantial. The MLS infusion of TAM as an incentive does a great job in allowing teams to sign DP caliber players, but it does nothing to help the overall depth needed to win the CCL.
With dreams of a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup on the line, Toronto’s front office is doing everything in their power to make it a reality. The fact of the matter is that there is no team in MLS history that is better prepared to make noise in this tournament than Toronto FC, a stark contrast to their last appearance in this tournament.