Toronto FC overcome Tigres in CONCACAF Champions League classic
A perfectly struck free kick from Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco helped the MLS champions into the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday, despite a 3-2 defeat to Liga MX champion Tigres.
The Canadian team advanced on away goals, following a 2-1 win in Toronto in last week's first leg as the tie finished 4-4 on aggregate.
Here are three takes from the game:
1. Toronto earns memorable victory
If you were to write a blueprint of how to get a result against the very best Liga MX teams in Mexico, it probably would look something similar to what we saw from Toronto FC on Tuesday, at least until Giovinco's 73rd-minute strike.
There was a lapse from a corner that allowed Eduardo Vargas in to equalize in the 69th minute, five minutes after a Rafael Carioca own goal had given Toronto the lead, and two late goals from Andre-Pierre Gignac as Toronto started to rock, but then against a team that has been the dominant force in Liga MX in recent years and hadn't lost at home in 23 matches, you'd expect some moments of danger.
Relatively speaking, those moments were few and far between until Toronto had opened the scoring. The disappointment from the Tigres side will revolve around why they were tamed quite comfortably for most the game by Toronto, before they threw caution to the wind.
There was a sense of serenity about the Canadian side from the start, with Toronto keeping the ball with confidence and not displaying signs of nervousness inside a stadium known as "The Volcano."
This was a tightly-fought affair, at least until Toronto went 1-0 up, and one in which Tigres enjoyed more possession -- even if they were sloppier at times with the ball -- and Toronto remained compact.
But while Toronto was in no rush to restart plays, this wasn't a backs-against-the-wall performance. The MLS champs were assured in possession and patient without the ball and, while Tigres had the better opportunities overall, goalkeeper Alex Bono's best save came from a Drew Moor sliced clearance. French center-back Chrys Mavinga was particularly impressive until he was taken off just after the hour mark.
But for all the hard work and organization in defense a team can possess, if you don't cause much of a threat in the final third, then a side will buckle more often than not. Tigres certainly pushed.
It wasn't enough squarely because of Giovinco's moment of brilliance in the 73rd minute.
Having earned himself a free kick from 25 yards out, Giovinco curled the ball into the left upright, beating Nahuel Guzman and handing Toronto a vital second away goal.
Gignac sprung into life with two late goals to win the game for Tigres, but Giovinco's goal will go down in history as the one that capped a famous night for the Canadian team.
2. CCL ends in despair for Ferretti's Tigres, again
Tigres fans left Estadio Universitario chanting, but there can be no hiding the disappointment of this defeat. The institution has been the very best Liga MX has had to offer over recent years. Three titles since 2015 tells you something of Tigres' consistent quality.
But what has been missing from Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti and his team's trophy cabinet is that international title. After finishing runner-up in the 2015 Copa Libertadores and the losing finalist in the last two editions of the CONCACAF Champions League, losing on Tuesday was a bitter blow.
The context here is that Tigres' expensively assembled squad is desperate to represent CONCACAF at the Club World Cup. And Tigres' neighbors and rivals Monterey has three CONCACAF titles to its name.
The wait continues.
3. Repeat matchup in the Campeones Cup?
This series between the MLS champions and the Liga MX champions felt as if it could've been the CCL final. The quality on display, the way the series swung and the contrasting styles all made for a captivating contest. They were the type of games that were surely in mind when Liga MX and MLS announced on Tuesday the start of the Campeones Cup between the two leagues for next September in Toronto.
With Toronto FC representing MLS as the reigning champion and Tigres already guaranteed a place in the Campeon de Campeones in July -- with the winner of that match going on to represent Liga MX in the Campeones Cup -- there is a strong chance that these two will face off again next September. And the way these two teams have represented their leagues in recent years, that is not a bad thing at all.
The resounding sentiment Tuesday, when fans put their respective biases aside, is that this was the kind of matchup that will forge intrigue, rivalry and respect between MLS and Liga MX. The more games of this quality competition the CONCACAF Champions League and the region in general can experience, the better it'll be for everyone involved.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.