Fresh off an unprecedented treble in 2017, MLS Cup champion Toronto FC will open its CONCACAF Champions League campaign against the Colorado Rapids in the round of 16 in February.
The matchup promises to be a short but chilly trip. But should Toronto progress, its road in the revamped club championship covering North and Central America and the Caribbean will get more difficult, with Mexico’s Tigres UANL and Club America and MLS rival FC Dallas on Toronto’s side of the draw.
Tigres won the Liga MX’s Apertura final earlier this month, defeating league-leader Monterrey after finishing second in the standings. Club America was third.
Tigres was runner-up in the last two CONCACAF club championships while Club America won in 2014-15 and 2105-16 (when it beat Tigres).
Plus, according to the draw, Toronto would have to play the second leg of the quarterfinal on the road.
Toronto will open the round-of-16 series in Commerce City, Colo., on Feb. 20-22 before hosting the return leg Feb. 27-March 1. All of Toronto’s home games will be at BMO Field.
The CONCACAF competition, sponsored by Scotiabank, starts before the MLS season kickoff, which was March 4 for Toronto this year.
Drew in season’s only meeting
The quarter-finals are set for early March with the semifinals and final in April.
Monday night’s draw, conducted by CONCACAF general secretary Philippe Moggio and former players Eddie Johnson and Carlos Pavon, took place in Miami.
The revamped competition features the top 16 clubs in CONCACAF, from Major League Soccer, Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Panama. The winner gains entry into the FIFA Club World Cup.
As a result of CONCACAF’s seeding process, Toronto was kept apart from Mexico’s CD Guadalajara, Club America, Tigres UANL and Club Tijuana and MLS rivals FC Dallas, the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders in the round of 16.
Colorado was the lone MLS team in the second pot and, under tournament rules, could not face an American team in the round of 16. With just two U.S. teams remaining when was drawn Colorado had to go into the TFC opponent slot.
Toronto drew visiting Colorado 1-1 in their only meeting in 2017.
Should Toronto advance, it will play either Tigres or Costa Rica’s CS Herediano in the quarterfinals. Waiting in the semifinals will be the last team standings from FC Dallas, Panama’s Tauro FC, Club America or Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa.
FC Dallas qualified as both 2016 U.S. Open champion and Supporters’ Shield winner, opening a berth for Colorado, the 2016 Supporters’ Shield runners-up. The Rapids (15-6-13, 58 points, in 2016) went downhill this season in the standings (9-19-6, 33 points) finishing 26 points behind Toronto (20-5-9, 69 points).
Toronto went into the draw full of optimism.
‘This team will not have fear’
President Bill Manning, who headed up Real Salt Lake when it lost in the final of the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2010-11, says this Toronto team is as strong as any MLS entry.
“I think this team will not have fear playing in CONCACAF,” he told his end-of-season media availability last week. “And I think we can do something special.”
In addition to claiming the MLS championship after a record-breaking 69-point season, Toronto also won the Canadian Championship and Supporters’ Shield (which signifies the best regular-season MLS record).
Now the only empty trophy case left in TFC’s training centre is the one for the CONCACAF Champions League.
Toronto is changing its training camp plans to prepare for the CONCACAF competition. After time in Toronto and Los Angeles, it will head to Mexico for some 10 days and will play Mexican sides to gear up.
Mexican teams have dominated the CONCACAF competition over the years and have won every edition of the tournament since it went to the Champions League format in 2008 from a knockout tournament.
“No MLS team has ever won that. But no MLS team had ever done the treble, no MLS team had got 69 points in the regular season,” Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono told the media last week. “I mean we’ve done those things, so why can’t we go and do this?
“The talent’s there, there’s no doubt about that. We showed it.”
Fifth appearance for Toronto
Because of the change in competition and schedule, Toronto essentially had to qualify twice for the 2018 tournament. It had thought its 2016 victory in the Canadian Championship had secured its berth but the changes essentially resulted in two qualifying cycles so Toronto had to win the Canadian Championship again in 2017.
It’s Toronto’s fifth appearance in the CONCACAF club championship and first since 2012-13 when it failed to survive the group stage.
Toronto’s finest hour in the competition came in 2011-12 when it dispatched David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy in the quarterfinals before falling 7-3 on aggregate to Santos Laguna in the semifinals after a disastrous 6-2 loss in the second leg in Mexico.
Canada’s best showing came in 2014-15 when the Montreal Impact made it to the final only to lose 5-3 on aggregate to Club America. The Vancouver Whitecaps were knocked out by Tigres in the semifinals in 2016-17.
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