With leg two of the CONCACAF Champions League semi-final set to kick off tonight, only one MLS team is in the driver seat while the other tries to overcome their own demons to reach the final CONCACAF’s top prize. Toronto FC takes their two goal advantage to Estadio Azteca tonight, while the Red Bulls welcome CD Guadalajara to Red Bull Arena on Wednesday as they look to erase a one goal aggregate deficit and move on to the final.
Toronto FC v. Club America - Tuesday, April 10, 10 p.m. ET
There are many soccer cathedrals around the world: Old Trafford, San Siro, Signal Iduna, the Bernabeu, and Camp Nou come to mind immediately. In North America however, there is just one: Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. As the only stadium in the world to play host to two World Cup Finals and more than a few incredibly legendary moments, it also is home to Mexico’s most decorated soccer team, Club America. With all that history surrounding Las Aguilas on nearly a daily basis, not to mention nearly 100,000 raucous supporters, the stage is set for leg two of this heated semi-final between Canada and MLS’ best against Mexico and Liga MX.
Toronto FC provided their fans with yet another special moment on a cold, and wet night on BMO Field’s chopped up pitch in leg one. Although the weather and conditions played their part and likely gave TFC an advantage, the eleven players on the pitch did exactly what they needed to do coming away with a 3-1 victory, with goals coming from Giovinco at the penalty spot, Altidore just before half, and hometown boy Ashtone Morgan’s first career goal at home.
Although the Reds find themselves up two goals heading into leg two, as stated many times before, that type of advantage counts for very little historically when MLS teams travel to Mexico. For TFC, playing at 7,200 feet above sea level and in front of the largest, most hostile crowd they ever have will likely play a much bigger role than a soggy pitch did in Toronto. To add fuel to the fire, a halftime tunnel scuffle and some fairly inflammatory post game statements from Miguel Herrera will serve as bulletin board material for an already motivated Club America side that was just handed it’s first loss in 17 matches.
But this Toronto FC team does not seem to back down from a challenge. Having already tamed Tigres by doing just enough in the fabled El Volcan, TFC knows what it takes to overcome Mexico’s historic dominance in the CONCACAF Champions League. Leg two has all the makings of what could be yet another legendary match on the hallowed pitch of Estadio Azteca.
Prediction: Club America will go ahead 2-0 early before TFC scores the all important away goal in the secnd half, enough to send Toronto to the CCL Final.
RBNY v. Chivas - Tuesday, April 10, 9 p.m. ET
With numerous players on yellow cards at risk of potentially missing leg two due to suspension, the Red Bulls took a slightly different, more defensive approach on the road against Guadalajara than we’ve seen from them thus far in the Champions League.
New York’s hopes to escape Estadio Akron with a result took a massive blow just past the midway mark of the first half when they went down 1-0. Things went from bad to worse as Aurelien Colin was sent off and will miss the second leg, along with Alex Muyl who is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Playing down a man and down a goal, the Red Bulls best chance to equalize came as Bradley Wright-Phillips had a breakaway stopped by Chivas’ keeper, preserving the lead and ensuring the victory.
Although Chivas has the edge as this series heads to New Jersey, the Red Bulls have shown their ability to grind out results, especially at home. However, if we’re being honest with ourselves, RBNY has a lot more to overcome in the second leg than just C.D. Guadalajara. Having never won a domestic trophy in their history, the Curse of Caricola lives on. Choking, for lack of a better term, has become part of RBNY lore, and that will be front and center of many RBNY fans’ minds on Wednesday night. Now, potentially losing a two-legged CCL semi-final series with Chivas shouldn’t be considered choking by any stretch, but it does continue the trend of the Red Bulls simply not being able to come through in the clutch to win trophies.
All that being said, as they proved against Club Tijuana, the Red Bulls have the right coach in Jesse Marsch and the right weapons and grit on the pitch to pull off a comeback and find themselves competing for the Champions League title.
Prediction: RBNY wins 3-1, setting up the first ever MLS only CONCACAF Champions League final.