Canadian Minnows Take on Mexican Sharks! TFC v Cruz Azul Pre Game
Each year I love watching the FA Cup from England. Some giant killer club from the lower leagues somehow goes on to find some way to beat a Manchester United or a Tottenham or a Liverpool to go deep into a tournament that they were never expected to do anything in realistically. Teams playing in grounds like Victoria Road (the home of Dagenham & Redbridge, a.k.a “Dag & Red”) with 6,700 seats sometimes goes to an Elland Road and win matches against a Leeds United (Elland has a capacity of 40,000) for example and do the unthinkable. As a neutral, seeing the underdog come away with a famous victory is one of the best parts of being a fan of this sport.
Toronto FC on Tuesday evening is going to play the role of the proverbial “minnow” facing one of the top clubs in all of North and Central America in Cruz Azul from Mexico City.
This is again to use a somewhat overused term, going to be a historical evening. Real Madrid, Aston Villa, Benfica and Independiente aside, this is far and away the best opponent Toronto FC will have ever played against to date in a meaningful competitive match. And the question at hand is how competitive will the match actually be?
The Mexicans are simply put a wonderful side littered with Mexican Internationals, young up and coming stars and a heady mix of talent and balance throughout the side. Compared to TFC on paper perhaps only Frei, Mista (depending on which Mista shows up) De Guzman and De Rosario are anywhere near being competitive talent wise with players such as captain Gerardo Torrado (who has 118 caps or his country) and Argentine Emanuel Villa (who has 27 goals in 41 appearances with Cruz Azul) to name but two. Cruz Azul are currently doing very well in what is without a doubt the best league on the continent, while a somewhat depleted TFC side is hanging onto the last playoff spot in a much weaker MLS. But to use another cliche, the ball is round. The game had to be played and there is of course the possibility that Toronto will give Cruz Azul a game.
With an eye on their league, they often blood their youngsters in these qualifying games and it is quite likely that Toronto will not necessarily see the best of Cruz Azul on Tuesday. TFC, with an absolutely critical home game on Saturday against New York, that at this point in the season cam be fair to say is an absolute must win, may have their primary focus elsewhere too. And did I mention that TFC is quite depleted up front? In form (by his standards at least) Chad Barrett and Maicon Santos are on the shelf with injury. So that leaves a strike force of O’Brien White, Mista, Fuad Ibrahim and, depending on how the formation is set up, Dwayne De Rosario, to choose from.
The conventional wisdom is that the fight in this Champions League group will be for second place between TFC, Real Salt Lake and Árabe Unido and that Cruz Azul will win the group in a walk. The reality as well is that for a number of factors (looking forward to league games, injuries, squad depth, writing off any chance against Cruz Azul… take your pick) we may not see a real 100% effort from Toronto. On the other hand BMO Field is a ground that the Mexicans have not seen before and our 12th man may be somewhat of a shock for some of their youngsters. If Toronto can catch them off guard and pinch a goal early on then who really knows how it will all go down?
I for one do not think TFC will win the game. But that is somewhat, at least to a degree, beside the point. Tuesday night is not about just the win, loss or draw for Toronto. It is about the fact that a competitive Champions League match against a wonderful opponent with something for both clubs to play for is going to be taking place in a soccer specific stadium in downtown Toronto with our team lining up against the giants from Mexico. The quality of soccer on offer Tuesday may be some of the best we have yet seen in Toronto, ever!
Getting a point, or dare I say it, three points from this game means that TFC would made a massive step in this tournament and for the club overall. A close game that sees Toronto lose will be looked at as somewhat akin to a moral victory by its supporters. A blowout will be expected by many and not that upsetting for the factors I have already mentioned.
Toronto FC for one night is taking on the role the proverbial “Dag & Red”. Come On You Daggers!! Let’s make some history.