Toronto FC was 4,000 kilometres away in Mexico Monday when a rented van plowed into pedestrians with deadly results.
But coach Greg Vanney said the horrific attack was deeply felt by his team in Mexico as it prepared for Wednesday’s return leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final with CD Guadalajara, known as Chivas.
“I think our group, probably as much or more than any group I’ve ever been around, really genuinely loves where they are and loves Toronto and all it has to offer and its people,” said the former U.S. international. “There isn’t anybody on our team that isn’t super-happy and excited being in Toronto. And everyone feels safe.”
Captain Michael Bradley called Toronto “one of the best cities in the world.”
“We’re going to step on the field (Wednesday night) and play in a way where everybody back home in Toronto is proud,” said the U.S. national team skipper.
Vanney also hopes the MLS champions can give something back to the city when it looks to erase a 2-1 deficit from the first leg. Because of Chivas’ away goals, a 1-0 win won’t be enough for Toronto. TFC will need to win and score at least two goals on the night. A 2-1 victory, however, would send the game to extra time and possibly penalties.
Chivas Guadalajara scores one of its two goals in a win over Toronto FC on April 17 in the opening leg of their CONCACAF Champions League final.(Graig Abel/Getty Images)
“We’ve got to be smart,” said Vanney. “We can’t just give away goals. But at the same time we know it’s incumbent upon us to go score at least two.”
TFC has a large contingent in Guadalajara, having sent 11 starters to Mexico late last week. All but two or three of the reserve squad Toronto fielded in a 5-1 loss in Houston on Saturday continued on to Mexico.
The team had 20 players in training Monday, allowing Vanney to essentially field two full squads in training.
Fullback Justin Morrow and defender Chris Mavinga flew in Tuesday afternoon. Morrow has been ruled out through injury. While Mavinga will undergo a fitness test, he is considered unlikely to take part in the game.
Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez, who has been sidelined by a nerve issue in his back, has trained. Vanney says barring a setback, Vazquez will be available “to play some role (Wednesday).”
Toronto FC is looking to become the first team from MLS to win the CONCACAF Champions League in its new format. The winner will secure a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Chivas Guadalajara defeated Toronto FC 2-1 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.1:37
A Toronto victory would complete the MLS champion’s trophy case after a 2017 season that saw the franchise win the Canadian Championship, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.
Toronto disposed of the Colorado Rapids and Mexico’s Tigres UANL and Club America en route to the final.
“I like the mindset of our group going into this game,” said Vanney. “Obviously we would have preferred to come down here in slightly different circumstances score-wise but it is what it is.
“What we have as we arrive is clarity. Whenever you get into these second legs you know what the outcomes are that you have to play for … I think once this team has clarity, it can set its mind towards the mission for the night and guys will commit to it and they’ll work and they’ll run.”
Chivas will be bolstered by the return from suspension of goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota and defenders Jair Pereira and Edwin Herrera.
The side currently languishes in 17th spot in the 18-team Mexican league with a 3-7-6 record. Toronto, which has focused all of its resources on the CONCACAF Champions League, is last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-0 mark.
Toronto is only the third club in MLS history to appear in the final. Real Salt Lake (2011) and the Montreal Impact (2015) both lost to Mexican opposition.
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