Tigres trump Toronto as Reds' woeful 2018 continues in Campeones Cup
Here are three points on Tigres' 3-1 Campeones Cup win over Toronto FC on Wednesday at BMO Field.
1. Tigres' quality rises to the surface
You could say that this was a classic Tigres performance. First there was a feeling-out period, and then once the weaknesses were properly identified, Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's men went to work.
The lack of communication on a Toronto FC back line consisting of Nick Hagglund, Michael Bradley and Eriq Zavaleta played right into Tigres' hands. The Mexican side used the wings to great effect, and it was from the left flank that Jesus Duenas scored the first of his two goals. His run was timed to perfection, catching Gregory van der Wiel and Zavaleta flat-footed, and there was only so much Bradley could do as Duenas finished with aplomb past Alex Bono.
It wasn't like Tigres were bombarding the TFC goal in the first half. Before the Duenas goal, the only real chance was Eduardo Vargas firing wide after a Hagglund giveaway and a pair of testing free kicks that evoked memories of Bono's Champions League final first-leg gaffe against Chivas.
Star striker Andre-Pierre Gignac wasn't even that effective, but the class and quality of the men in yellow, combined with Toronto's vulnerable back line, would bear out. That was evidenced by the Reds' failure to clear a corner kick, which played right into Duenas' wheelhouse, and Bono had no chance to save the right-footed rocket.
The brace was just reward for Duenas, a player who quietly has been a consistent performer throughout Tigres' recent run of titles. It also must be pretty nice for Ferretti to look down at his bench and see the likes of Enner Valencia or Jurgen Damm available to play, and it was pressure from the former that eventually led to the Zavaleta own goal that put the nail in Toronto's coffin.
2. Toronto's season in a nutshell
This match pretty much summed up 2018 for Toronto FC.
A defense that was so solid last season -- 37 regular-season goals conceded -- has been leaky throughout 2018, giving up 55 goals thus far in MLS. That played out on Wednesday night for Greg Vanney's squad, as the lack of defensive solidity reared its head, and a team as talented as Tigres was simply not going to let that go unpunished.
It was ball-watching on the first Duenas goal and a failure to clear lines on Duenas' sizzling second, and then the Zavaleta own goal was the perfect capper to what was a miserable evening.
It was also the same old story on the injury front for Toronto. Truth be told, when Sebastian Giovinco had to leave the field late in the first half, TFC's comeback chances were slim to none, even with the scoreline just 1-0.
The Italian served up the two corner kicks that led to TFC's best chances in the first half: a mis-hit Hagglund header and a Jay Chapman header that hit the crossbar. Without Giovinco on the field, Jozy Altidore was ineffective.
If there was one positive to be taken for Vanney, it was the late spurt once Tosaint Ricketts came on for Altidore, but it was never going to be enough against a Tigres team well steeled in winning finals.
3. The Pizarro difference
While Ferretti rolled out a starting XI that featured many of the same names from last spring's CONCACAF Champions League clashes, there was one notable difference: Guido Pizarro. The Argentine plays a crucial role for the Felinos in defensive midfield, but he wasn't on the field back in March. After four years in Monterrey from 2013-17, Pizarro spent the 2017-18 season with Sevilla before returning to Liga MX in June.
Pizarro was a huge part of those 2015 and 2016 Aperture-winning sides, plus he helped Tigres reach two Champions League finals and a Copa Libertadores final. This is all to point out that Pizarro handles his duties extremely well and always seems to deliver in big games for Ferretti.
Wednesday night was no different. Sitting in front of Tigres' defense, Pizarro ensured that Toronto FC barely got a whiff of Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman in open play. The fluidity that Toronto showed in the first leg last March was nowhere to be found. One has to wonder, if Pizarro had been on the field six months ago, perhaps things would have been different.