Toronto FC fought back after a goal to secure a 1-1 away draw against Club León in the round of 16 first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League.
The tie is still far from over, but a Toronto side without Pozuelo put in an inspiring performance against a León side who have played 19 more games since TFC’s last competitive outing in November 2020.
With plenty to look forward to before next week’s second leg at Osceola County Stadium, here are five important lessons to take from TFC’s impressive first leg result.
The away goal can make the difference
Erickson Gallardo’s deflected effort resulted in an own goal by León defender Andres Mosquera who not only equalized the score but also gave TFC a vital away goal in the context of the equality.
As it stands, TFC has the advantage in the second leg. Toronto can progress through a win by any score or through a 0-0 draw, which would see the Reds win on away goals. Ultimately, the important away goal means TFC just needs to keep a clean sheet in Kissimmee to secure their spot in the quarter-finals.
If Eriq Zavaleta and Omar Gonzalez replicate their defensive performance in the first leg next week, Toronto should remain in charge. With the first 90 minutes of the 2021 season now on the books, Chris Armas and co. know that the qualification for the next round is well in their sights now.
Altidore has to put on his shooting boots
Alejandro Pozuelo’s absence meant that Jozy Altidore had to lean on others to create clear chances for him. A few times before León’s first goal, the USA international could have put TFC forward, but the execution was not there today by the veteran striker.
The final stages of the first half saw a complete collapse of the momentum TFC had built up at the start. If León had been more clinical in their period of domination, the tie could have been put to bed quickly.
Altidore will surely regret his missed opportunities, as a few goals in the season opener would have been a much-needed confidence boost ahead of the start of the MLS campaign. Following the striker’s injury in the middle of the second half, Armas is hoping his # 17 won’t be badly injured before next week’s second leg.
The children are fine
What a night for the young people of TFC. Let’s start with Noble Okello. The Canadian prodigy made his very first start for the club at Estadio León and was one of the highlights of the first half. He looked like a solid force in midfield, as he conjured up a series of beautifully placed passes to give the Toronto faithful a taste of the creativity he can bring to the team.
Central midfielder Ralph Priso also wowed viewers as his cool, calm and collected performance alongside Michael Bradley underscored why the 18-year-old truly is one for the future.
There was also a TFC debutant last night in León as 19-year-old Luke Singh, who had signed a four-day contract hours before the game, left the bench with three minutes plus time out to play.
And last but not least, Jacob Shaffelburg was another star man in today’s roster, especially when it comes to his acceleration on both flanks which caused problems for León’s defenders. The 21-year-old almost set Altidore up for the opening goal seconds after kick-off. Shaffelburg’s desire and hunger was in full view today and having played just four games last season, fans can expect a lot more from him and the rest of Toronto’s crop of exciting young talent.
The quality of Pozuelo and Osorio was missed
Despite Okello and Priso’s brilliant performances, it is safe to say that the TFC midfielder would have had an increased sense of composure if Alejandro Pozuelo and Jonathan Osorio were on the pitch. Toronto’s midfielder maestros are known to have designed frequent masterclasses in their roles, so against a team like León, known for their attacking flair, collection and midfield equanimity are crucial.
Osorio’s experience in the CCL is a major advantage for the team, and although Pozuelo has yet to make his continental debut for TFC, his international playing experience in Europe, notably in the UEFA Europa League with Swansea and Genk, is also an invaluable asset. asset for Toronto in high-caliber matches.
León is expected to attack with more tenacity in the second leg, so Armas will be hopeful that he can call on Pozuelo and Osorio to lead Toronto to the next round.
Considering the circumstances, a job well done!
León, Mexico is a city 6,000 feet above sea level. For an injured Toronto FC, play his first competitive game in five months there and eventually return to Florida with a draw and a away goal firmly shows that the whole team is eager to succeed in the coming season.
With Armas-ball gradually taking its full effect, TFC loyalists have a lot to look forward to for the remainder of the campaign.