MONTERREY – Don’t poke the bear.
Or the Tiger, it seems.
Tough talkin’ Tigres Sports Delegate Miguel Garza Martinez responded to the Toronto Sun’s playful jab ahead of Tuesday’s anticipated return leg at the raucous Estadio Universitario.
The Sun’s “PAPER TIGRES” headline in the aftermath of TFC’s 2-1 Champions League win provoked Tigres’ second-in-command to fire back ahead of this week’s decisive second leg.
“(In Canada) the cold freezes there ways of thinking,” a confident Martinez told reporters, adding Tigres will do its “talking” on the pitch this week instead of in newspapers and media.
They certainly have some explaining to do following TFC’s stunning comeback victory.
Tigres, Tijuana and Club America were scrutinized after the Liga MX trio fell to MLS opposition in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal meetings.
Mexican sports magazine RECORD was far more harsh than the Sun, using its front page to call the results “insulting and unacceptable” for a league and country that prides itself on continental supremacy.
Last week wasn’t just about Tigres-TFC or Tijuana-Red Bulls or Chivas-Sounders. It was about Liga MX versus MLS, us versus them, an established league versus one deemed inferior.
“These Mexican clubs don’t like losing to MLS clubs. It’s that simple,” said long-time MLS and Liga MX striker Herculez Gomez. “(Toronto FC) might be a Canadian club, but (Liga MX clubs) equate MLS to American soccer. That rivalry is still there. They know it will be talked about.
“They know they’ll be scrutinized by the national press. Everyone knows Tigres is one of the most expensive rosters in North America. When they lose to an MLS team they don’t take it lightly.”
But competing at home has never been an issue for MLS clubs. Toronto FC defeated Cruz Azul at BMO Field back in 2010 before drawing Pumas a year later. Gomez’s Santos Laguna drew at BMO in 2012.
However, TFC was utterly dominated each time it ventured south of the U.S. border.
“The tempo can be different,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said ahead of his team’s arrival here Sunday. “Get down there and the game tends to look like how they want it to look.
“(MLS) teams continue to improve. Our tactics continue to improve. Our difference-makers continue to improve,” Vanney added. “You’re seeing more parity in some of these games.”
Some have expressed disappointment that this TFC-Tigres series is happening so early. Gomez referred to this tie as a “dream final” when the Sun reached him by phone on the weekend.
Not only has Toronto FC been the best side in Major League Soccer two years running. Its roster appears to be best suited to survive a do-or-die fixture inside “The Volcano,” Tigres’ home ground.
Toronto FC’s roster is stacked with guys who’ve experienced similar environments. The occasion won’t be too big for a group of players who, together, possess an encyclopedia of fixture lists.
“It’s not going to surprise me if Toronto pulls this off,” Gomez said. “I think (TFC) surprised Tigres with their willingness to play almost the same sort of game (last week), where we open ourselves up and throw numbers forward, with the understanding we’re vulnerable behind us.”
Expect Vanney to adjust his tactics given the situation. Toronto’s ability to win games in different ways, including on the counter-attack, has been an underappreciated pillar of Vanney’s tenure.
But while the Reds have proven they can score against the best Mexico has to offer, there are lingering doubts they can contain CONCACAF’s top strikers.
Frenchman Andre-Pierre Gignac enters Tuesday night’s affair in elite form on the back of a thunderous strike that lifted Tigres past Tijuana over the weekend. Likewise, Chilean Eduardo Vargas showed his quality at BMO Field.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Reds emerge from The Volcano with a clean sheet.
“(Tigres) is going to treat this as a final,” Gomez added. “I don’t even have enough fingers to count how many finals Tigres has been in … This is very routine for them. They feel very comfortable in these do-or-die situations.
“That’s what sets Tigres apart from any team on this continent.”
They’ve shown over and over they’re anything but “paper” thin.
MLS SIDES IN POSITION TO SHOCK LIGA MX
Three MLS sides are in position to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals for the first time in the competition’s history.
Leading Tijuana 2-0, the New York Red Bulls host the return leg of that series Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena.
Toronto FC will look to hold a narrow 2-1 lead when it visits Tigres later that night.
On Wednesday, the Seattle Sounders travel to Chivas Guadalajara looking to hold a 1-0 advantage.
The Reds appear to have the toughest task of the three remaining MLS clubs.
“It (would be) THE result,” former MLS and Liga MX striker Herculez Gomez said, adding TFC advancing past mighty Tigres would set it apart.
“This is arguably one of the most successful dynasties that Mexican soccer has seen – league-wide and internationally.”
The Monterrey-based side hasn’t lost in 23 straight games at Estadio Universitario.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies