Published On: Wed, Mar 14th, 2018

Toronto FC advances on away goals despite second-leg loss to Tigres

Much of the the talk leading up to the series between Toronto FC and reigning Liga MX champions Tigres focused on the plight of Major League Soccer teams in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Mexican squads had dominated teams from MLS, winning all nine of the tournaments to date.

That chatter didn’t change despite the Reds heading to Mexico for the second leg of the series with a 2-1 advantage, earned at BMO Field two weeks ago.

But the reigning MLS champions pulled off one of the most impressive victories in the tournament’s history Tuesday night, advancing to the semifinals on away goals despite a wild 3-2 loss in the Monterrey stadium nicknamed “The Volcano”.

After a tense but largely quiet first half, the game opened up in the second 45 minutes.

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Sebastian Giovinco forced a Tigres own goal with a succinct cross in the 62nd minute to open the scoring for Toronto FC, but the home side quickly pulled even on an Eduardo Vargas header off a corner kick a mere seven minutes later.

Giovinco gave the Reds a second — and critical — away goal in the 72nd minute, curling a free kick into the top right-hand corner of goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman’s net from about 30 yards out.

Andre-Pierre Gignac tied things up in the 84th minute and put Tigres ahead after again beating Toronto FC keeper Alex Bono on a penalty in the 93rd to bring the teams level on aggregate.

But the away-goal tiebreaker was enough to advance the Reds to the next round and, coupled with New York Red Bulls’ quarter-final victory over Club Tijuana, marked the first time two MLS teams advanced past Mexican squads in the same competition.

Here’s what you need to know about Tuesday night’s result for Toronto FC:

THE ART OF DEFENCE: The Reds went into the game vowing to not just to sit back and defend, yet Tigres dominated the possession numbers, holding onto the ball for almost 65 per cent of the match. Still, TFC hardly lost focus — or its shape — until it had done enough to ensure it would be advancing, even if there were some sloppy moments — Drew Moor nearly scoring an own goal with seconds left in the first half, and substitute Nick Hagglund flubbing a clearance that lead to the second goal. That mental strength in the face of huge pressure and a loud crowd should serve the Reds well going forward.

GIANT GIOVINCO: When Tigres came out of the break with a spring in their step, the Reds defence began to look tired. It didn’t help that Toronto’s best defender for much of the night, Chris Mavinga, was pulled from the match in the 62nd minute due to injury. That’s about the time when Giovinco put the team on his back. The forward became the Reds’ first line of defence, running the ball whenever he could to give the players behind him a rest. It proved crucial to Toronto’s game. One of the Italian striker’s drives into his opponent’s box ended with him crossing the ball to Tigres’ Rafael Carioca for the own goal. Another run by Giovinco earned him the free kick he curled into Tigres’ net for the highlight-reel marker.

Giovinco’s goal off a free kick in the 72nd minute.

MAKING HISTORY: Toronto advances to the Champions League semifinal for just the second time in club history, becoming just the ninth MLS club to reach that stage in the tournament since the current format was adopted in 2008-09. The Reds were the second MLS club to do so on the night, after Red Bulls beat Club Tijuana 5-1 on aggregate.

SORROW FOR MORROW … AND MAVINGA: Justin Morrow has been nearly ever-present for Toronto FC since his arrival at the club in 2014, starting at least 28 regular season matches in each of the past four seasons and playing virtually all of the organization’s 12 playoff games. But in one of the biggest games in club history, Morrow managed less than 15 minutes on the field, going down in the 12th minute with an unidentified injury and subbed off not long after. Auro took his place and performed admirably at left back, but the thought of any extended period of time without Morrow is enough to send chills down TFC fans’ spine. The same could be said for Mavinga, who left the game injured shortly after halftime. While the Frenchman hasn’t been with the club nearly as long as Morrow, he has made himself equally indispensable. Case in point: after making a game-saving tackle in injury time of the first leg, when Tigres’ Ismael Sosa broke into Toronto’s box with minutes to play, Mavinga blocked a close-range shot in the first half of the second leg that almost certainly kept Toronto FC on level terms, a play that would prove imperative to the Reds’ advancing when the game finished tied.

Mavinga’s block on a close-range shot in the first half.

UP NEXT: The Reds likely haven’t seen the last of Mexico. Toronto will face the winner of quarter-final between Liga MX’s Club America and Panama’s Tauro FC, who will meet in the second leg of the series on Thursday. Club America heads into that game up 4-0 on aggregate.

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Toronto FC advances on away goals despite second-leg loss to Tigres