Toronto FC Advances to CCL Semifinal off Stout Defense and Carioca Own Goal

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MONTERREY, MEXICO - MARCH 13: Andre-Pierre Gignac of Tigres fights for the ball with Drew Moor of Toronto during the quarterfinals second leg match between Tigres UANL and Toronto FC as part of the CONCACAF Champions League 2018 at Universitario Stadium on March 13, 2018 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

MONTERREY, N.L. (March 13, 2018) – Toronto FC are through to the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League Semifinal. After a 3-2 loss, they defeated Liga MX power Tigres UNAL 4-4 (2-1 on away goals) on aggregate, in part thanks to a Rafael Carioca own goal.

Toronto FC Advances Over Tigres to CCL Semifinal off Stout Defense and Carioca Own Goal

Tigres were the more aggressive side in the first half. They didn’t win the possession battle by a wide margin, but they out-chanced Toronto by a good margin in the first half. The Reds stayed resolute defensively and made it hard for Tigres to break them down.

In particular, they limited the touches for Andre-Pierre Gignac. The best chance of the half came in the 24th minute when Chris Mavinga cleared a chance off the line from Ismael Sosa. The half ended 0-0 (1-2 aggregate).

Things lit up in the second half. Tigres turned up the pressure as the game went on, but it was Toronto opening the scoring with a Rafael Carioca own goal off a through pass in transition. Tigres responded just minutes later when Eduardo Vargas got a free header on a corner to draw the home side within one on aggregate.

In the 73rd minute, Toronto was able to put the game on ice. In just his second set piece opportunity of the match, Sebastian Giovinco sent the ball to the top left corner, past goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman.

Tigres threw everything they could at the Toronto defense. Gignac was finally able to break the Toronto dam in the 85th minute when he got past Eriq Zavaleta to tap a ball into the back of the net at the far post.

In the dying moments, Zavaleta was called for a hand ball in the box. Gignac stepped up and converted the PK, but it was too little too late as moments after the restart, full time was called. Toronto FC advanced on away goals.

Three Things I Noticed:

Toronto’s defense was up for it, especially Mavinga: Chris Mavinga put in the best 61 minute defensive performance I’ve seen in years. He led by example in man marking and gap control in the first half. He made the save of the game in the 24th minute, clearing a ball off the line.

He marked Gignac well when called upon and kept Sosa and Alberto Acosta in his back pocket anytime they got forward. Given Toronto had to sub out Justin Morrow with an injury just 15 minutes in, Mavinga adjusted in the fly and made it look easy.

Just enough CONCACAFing: Head Coach Greg Vanney had to have sent his team to CONCACAF Camp this past week. Toronto did just enough CONCACAFing to get under the skin of their opponents and get a result. Even early in the first half, they were taking their time to time waste. On several key opportunities, they delayed quick restarts for Tigres. When it came to tackling, they were just chippy enough, as head official Hector Rodriguez was measured in his decisions.

Gignac couldn’t get enough service: The former French superstar got his first start in Champions League in this match, and it was a frustrating one. The striker was irate for much of the game, disappointed with the lack of service to him. Toronto did well closing down the flanks to prevent crosses in towards him. When balls did get through, they were off target.

It wasn’t until the 85th minute that he got a truly dangerous chance, when he was able to get behind Eriq Zavaleta to score his only goal of the match. If Toronto didn’t prioritize this or if Tigres was more accurate with their crosses, we’d be having a very different conversation right now.

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