MONTERREY – Greg Vanney expects Tigres to “assume” they’re the better side.
But Toronto FC’s head coach also issued the Mexican mega-club something of a warning ahead of Tuesday night’s decisive Champions League quarterfinal: The Reds have players who’ve repeatedly shown they can hurt teams that throw caution to the wind and pour numbers forward with reckless abandon.
“I think we’re quicker. I think we’re stronger. I think we’re faster and more agile on the front side of things than they are on the back side,” Vanney told the Toronto Sun on Monday afternoon at the club’s luxury downtown Monterrey hotel. “I do think the more numbers they push forward the more interesting things become on the transition for us.”
This much is clear: The Reds aren’t here to simply protect a narrow, one-goal (2-1) first leg lead. They’re not here to play cautious, either. They understand they’re going to need at least a goal – and that Tigres’ absolutely stacked attack is going to create multiple chances in this do-or-die fixture.
“The game is going to be won or lost in the time between when we lose possessions and get back into our set defending shape,” Vanney added. “If we can control that I think we win the series.”
It’s about knowing when to commit numbers forward and when to protect the goal. Reflecting back, Vanney couldn’t recall Tigres creating any chances last week when his side had numbers behind the ball through the opening 20 minutes at BMO Field. However, Tigres looked dangerous when TFC’s three central defenders were left isolated as TFC went in search of an equalizer and, eventually, a match-winner.
“Our teams are fairly similar in our attacking strengths,” Vanney said. “But I think we’re a better defending team. That’s what I think. We have the edge. That’s our willingness to get together as a group and really defend and work on our defending and take pride in our defending.
“(Tigres) wins games because they have a powerful attack,” Vanney added.
Tigres’ attack isn’t just powerful, though. It’s arguably the best currently on offer in the Americas.
French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac is the best player in CONCACAF. His attacking partners, Chilean Eduardo Vargas and Ecuadoran Enner Valencia, would fit seamlessly into most European clubs. Mexican winger Javier Aquino showed his quality at last summer’s Confederations Cup and caused problems in the opening leg.
The aforementioned foursome very nearly punished TFC last week when things opened up late in the second half as the Reds pushed for the goal that could see them through to the Champions League semifinals.
“We talked about it,” Vanney said. “We can’t disregard our responsibilities on the defensive end. We have to be more aware … that we can’t have six, seven guys running into the attack.”
Yet can the Reds still find the right moments to get forward without leaving themselves vulnerable? Can they be secure with the ball in the defensive- and middle-thirds? Can they find Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore early, when the home side is caught forward searching for goals?
“It’s going to require we come here and get a goal and find the right moments to push the tempo,” Vanney said. “Spaces tend to open up in these games. A lot of these games end up being five guys working defensively and five guys attacking and the space in between becomes quite open. I think it’s just going to come down to the team that makes the plays when the plays are there to be made.”
Contending with “The Volcano” is the other major obstacle. The Estadio Universitario should be brimming with yellow-clad supporters who are eager to see their side avenge a first leg loss.
“You learn to just focus on the game and the situations in the game,” Vanney said of contending with the crowd. “You don’t get caught up in the things that don’t have an impact on your ability to complete a play. You have to put the distractions aside and think about the task at hand.”
Most expect the task to be too big. A Mexican reporter reminded Vanney on Monday night that Tigres hasn’t lost at their home ground in 23 straight league games dating back to last year.
“We’ve never played here,” Vanney answered. “We have no bearing on their past results.
The past does, however, have some bearing on this series. The Reds, in many ways, are carrying the MLS flag into this fixture, knowing full well the result here will be an indictment on their league.
“I don’t think our guys see it that way,” Vanney said. “I think our guys look at this as an opportunity to go and do something different and unique. They’re willing to put themselves out there and go for it.”
Toronto FC doesn’t merely want to survive and advance Tuesday night in Monterrey. The Reds want to show they can compete inside The Volcano while taking it to the odds-on favourite.
“We beat them, which gives (this series) a little bit more notoriety,” Vanney added. “They’re on the back foot. They have to push it a little bit. They’re aware of those things.”
That might not be a good thing.
TIGRES BOSS DOWNPLAYS MEXICAN DOMINANCE
Tigres manager Ricardo Ferretti has a great deal of respect for MLS.
The 64-year-old, who is on this third stint as Tigres’ bench boss, said his side’s 2-1 first leg loss at BMO Field last Wednesday proves the gap is narrowing between MLS and Liga MX.
“I respect opinions, but I do not think (that Mexican soccer is much superior to MLS),” Ferretti said ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League quarterfinal, according to Mexican sports magazine RECORD.
“If you want to show that Mexico is still the giant (of CONCACAF), I think they are very wrong.”
Of course, Ferretti could just be playing mind games with his own squad in an effort to make sure they don’t look past their MLS opponents.
After all, there have been nine CCL finals since 2009. Seven have pitted two Liga MX sides. All nine finals have ended with Mexican clubs winning CONCACAF’s top trophy.
However, last week’s opening leg was humbling to a side that’s not used to losing – especially against the perceived inferior opposition.
CANADA CALLS ON FOUR REDS
Defender Ashtone Morgan, midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Jay Chapman, and forward Tosaint Ricketts have all been called up for the match at Pinatar Arena in Murcia, Spain.
“This match provides a great opportunity to be face-to-face with members of the men’s national team program and establish the foundations and relationships that will align (us) towards a goal of consistent winning performances,” Herdman said in a press release. “The players believe that we can do this and that with the right plan we can deliver. Our players are looking forward to making that commitment and pushing themselves to levels that they have never reached before.”
Ricketts, 30, has earned 57 caps for Canada, scoring 15 goals. Osorio, 25, has earned 19 caps for Canada, scoring twice. Morgan, 27, has earned 13 caps for Canada. Chapman, 24, has earned two caps and scored one goal for Canada.
Joining the TFC foursome are Montreal’s Raheem Edwards, Michael Petrasso and Samuel Piette, as well as Dallas striker Tesho Akindele and LAFC’s Dejan Jakovic and Mark-Anthony Kaye.
Other notable call-ups include Burnley’s Scott Arfield and Besiktas’ tandem of Atiba Hutchinson and Cyle Larin.
TIGRES LOOKING TO CONFIRM SUPIORITY
The New York Red Bulls made history last week by becoming the first MLS side to win a Champions League knockout stage game in Mexico – a result that also brought attention to Major League Soccer’s abysmal record when travelling south of the U.S. border.
The Red Bulls’ 2-0 win in Tijuana was just the third win by an MLS side in 49 competitive fixtures in Mexico. The other two arrived courtesy FC Dallas, which knocked off Pumas in 2011, and the Seattle Sounders, which took down Monterrey that same year.
Both wins occurred in the Champions League group phase.
What’s more, freelance soccer reporter Jonathan Yardley crunched the numbers and found New York’s first leg win snapped a 21-game unbeaten run for Liga MX sides hosting MLS squads.
Entering Tuesday night’s return legs, MLS clubs are 3-38-8 in 49 in Mexico all-time.
Factor in Tigres’ 23-match league unbeaten run at Estadio Universitario and you begin to see why Toronto FC’s task appears exceedingly daunting despite the Reds needing just a draw to advance.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies