Chivas ensure MLS wait for a CONCACAF Champions League title continues
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Chivas defeated Toronto 4-2 on penalties to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy on Wednesday in Estadio Akron.
Toronto won the second leg 2-1, equalling the aggregate score 3-3, to take the game to penalties, with U.S. international Michael Bradley missing the final spot kick to hand Chivas the title.
Here are three takes from a tense night in Guadalajara:
1. Chivas scrape by as the MLS wait goes on
Twelve long years have passed since a non-Mexican team has won the CONCACAF Champions League. None in that time has come closer than Toronto FC, but Chivas were crowned champion for the first time since 1962 and will play at the Club World Cup in December for the first time in the club's history.
It was Bradley sending the final penalty high that probably will make the front pages, but Toronto midfielder Marky Delgado had a golden opportunity to win the game for TFC with the clock almost up. Sebastian Giovinco had twisted and turned down the left and set up Delgado right in front of goal, but he blasted the ball high and wide.
It's easy to reduce games to one moment and it would be unfair to put all the blame on Delgado's shoulders, but in matchups as tight, tense and epic as the one in Guadalajara on Wednesday evening, it was huge.
The wait for MLS teams to win this tournament for the first time since 2000 continues. Greg Vanney's side produced some historic moments along the way, getting past Tigres and Club America and redefining to a degree the perception of MLS in Mexico.
The performance in Estadio Akron was again impressive, getting the victory on the night in another assured display.
But credit to Chivas. Coach Matias Almeyda made attacking substitutions in the second half, chased the game and the players took the penalties with authority. He has managed to motivate a team that has been desperately struggling in league play.
It'll be an all-Mexican team at the Club World Cup, while Toronto's space for the CCL cup in its trophy cabinet will remain empty.
2. Final lives up to hype
The build-up to the final was marred by tragic events in Toronto and Chivas players protesting the club's directors over lack of payments. It isn't supposed to be that way. But the players put the other issues to the back of their mind and put on a classic CCL final.
Toronto was missing Chrys Mavinga, Eriq Zavaleta and Justin Morrow, and Vanney slotted in central midfielder Michael Bradley alongside full-back Greg Van der Wiel at center-back.
Chivas coach Almeyda sprung a surprise in his starting lineup by playing center backs Carlos Salcido, Jair Pereira and Oswaldo Alanis, but veteran Salcido played in central midfield alongside Michael Perez in a structure not too dissimilar to the usual 4-2-3-1.
Chivas started the game the better team and Orbelin Pineda finished from Rodolfo Pizarro's defense-splitting pass to give Chivas the lead in the 19th minute. The mood in Estadio Akron became one of celebration. It was premature.
Toronto's equalizer was a blow for Chivas. You expect that a player like Giovinco will make you pay at some point over the 180 minutes of a two-legged series, but Jozy Altidore's tap-in in the 25th was shambolic from a defensive point of view and the atmosphere changed.
Chivas had only conceded twice all tournament and within a shoddy 20-minute spell at the end of the first half, the Guadalajara side had let all the good work disappear.
The second half was tense. Jesus Godinez hit the post for Chivas, while Giovinco went close late on for Toronto and Delgado had his golden chance.
In the end, this will go down as one of the best CCL tournaments and finals in recent years. There was so little between the teams. Added to that, the importance clubs handed the competition, the quality on display and -- most important -- the shock to the Liga MX system of seeing Toronto take Mexican teams to the wire all added to the excitement.
Next year's will take some living up to and the Liga MX vs. MLS rivalry will grow naturally through these types of finals.
3. Giovinco vs. Perez defines series
Almeyda told a white lie when he stated in the pregame news conference that he wouldn't be assigning any of his players to man-mark Giovinco. Given the way Perez had limited the Italian by shadowing him in the first leg, why wouldn't Almeyda try to same tactic?
Perez, 25, was again handed the sizable task of dealing with Giovinco. He was the difference-maker in the quarterfinal against Tigres and against Club America in the semi.
Perez was supreme for most of Wednesday night. Giovinco struggled to make an impact, with Perez following like a shadow. There were signs of frustration in the 43rd minute when he fouled the Mexican near the center of the pitch. Giovinco was booked for his protests.
But the Italy international doesn't need much time or space to make an impact. And when he received the ball inside the penalty area with Perez unusually not right on his back, it was all Giovinco needed. He took a touch and placed the ball inside Rodolfo Cota's near post to make it 2-1 -- one sniff was all Giovinco needed. Perez was taken off in the 68th minute because of an injury and Pineda took over marking duties.
Chivas was pushing for the goal to tie the score, but Giovinco had more left in the tank. He produced some skill down the left with just seconds left to hand Delgado the kind of chance he'll have nightmares about missing.
The battle between the two ended in stalemate and with both deserving of credit.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.