Toronto FC will need one last Herculean effort to make CONCACAF Champions League history

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Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco and Chivas de Guadalajara’s Michael Perez battle during the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. (Getty)
Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco and Chivas de Guadalajara’s Michael Perez battle during the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. (Getty)

Toronto FC had been waiting for Tuesday night. It had been waiting for some time. As a team, as a franchise, and as a community institution, it had been building. Building toward the sellout crowd that greeted team buses and then filled BMO Field in snowy, sub-freezing conditions. Building toward something no MLS team has ever done. Building toward a night that could change the continental prestige of a club and a league for good.

And in all of 63 seconds, that night, and the high that accompanied it, came crashing back down to earth.

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What will likely hold up as the most important moment of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final between TFC and Chivas de Guadalajara arrived just 63 seconds into the first leg. It arrived before thousands of fans who had forgone a Toronto Raptors playoff game to brave the elements could settle into their seats. Rodolfo Pizarro sent Toronto confidence and TFC’s favorite status drifting off into the frigid Canadian air:

And although Toronto recovered, it never quite regained that status. It never quite undid the damage that Pizarro’s goal inflicted. As a result, both of those tasks are still in TFC’s queue heading back to Mexico for the second leg.

If Pizarro’s strike was the destabilizer, Alan Pulido’s 72nd-minute free kick was the back-breaker. It sent TFC back to Mexico dragging a 2-1 deficit and two Chivas away goals with it.

After the early goal, Toronto had grown into the game. It began to piece together the flowing attacking moves that made it the best team in MLS history; that propelled it over Tigres and Club America, two of the best teams in Mexico, in the quarterfinals and semis.

Jonathan Osorio finished off one of those moves with a goal emblematic of what has allowed Toronto to elevate itself to the top of North and Central America. Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, TFC’s big-money DPs and stars, combined in midfield to release Marky Delgado down the right. Delgado and Osorio, part of the talented foundation that TFC has build underneath its DPs, got the hosts level.

And Toronto had several chances either side of halftime to take a lead that would have put the tie firmly in the balance heading back to Guadalajara. Altidore very nearly finished off a brilliant back-to-front attack:

In the second half, Chivas began to bunker in, as it had done against the New York Red Bulls in a 1-0 semifinal victory. It would have been happy with 1-1. Alex Bono’s misplaying of Pulido’s cross-cum-shot sent the visitors over the moon.

At 2-1, the Mexican side will be a heavy favorite to secure a 13th consecutive CONCACAF title for Liga MX. Its celebrations at the final whistle reflected that.

But there is a reason Toronto FC has been built so thoroughly and meticulously. There is a reason it has invested over $18 million per year in three accomplished internationals, but also spent more than $4 million annually on the rest of the squad, and over $20 million on facilities, and almost $10 million more on reserve and youth team infrastructure, and millions more to bring it toward the top, if not to the top of MLS in almost every department.

All of that led to a Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup title last year, and it doesn’t just crumble over half of a two-leg tie. Toronto has the quality to triumph as an underdog 2,500 miles away from home.

It’s just that this time, MLS’ best doesn’t have a lead to defend; it has a deficit to overcome. It has history – no MLS team has won the Champions League in its current format – on its opponent’s side. Even for a club that has been better constructed than past continental challengers from the United States and Canada, a two-goal win at the Estadio Akron might be too big of an ask.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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