Toronto FC win draw with Club León in CONCACAF Champions League first leg
Toronto FC, despite the absence of some key staff members, held Club Leon to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday.
A tiring Toronto had to face wave after wave of late attacks on the Mexican side, but somehow held on with goaltender Alex Bono blocking a rocket in the 86th minute. TFC and Leon, who had never met before, will play the second leg on April 14 in the Orlando area.
Fernando Navarro scored in the first half for Leon. Toronto equalized in the 50th minute with an own goal from Andres Mosquera.
Navarro opened the scoring in the 25th minute with a spectacular right-footed volley from the edge of the penalty box after Jean Meneses escaped full-back Richie Laryea and found Navarro with a tricky chip. A good diver got his hands on the ball but the power of the shot took it off the post.
Toronto had eight players in its box, but none were close enough to stop Navarro’s magical moment.
WATCH | TFC and Club León share the loot in the first leg of the round of 16:
TFC substitute Erickson Gallardo, demonstrating the aggressive press new coach Chris Armas instituted, stole the ball from William Tesillo and attempted to pass it to Jozy Altidore. A slippery Mosquera put one foot on the ball to the edge of the box, deflecting it over goalkeeper Rodolpho Cota to give TFC a valuable away goal.
The Champions League is CONCACAF’s flagship competition, with the winner qualifying for the FIFA Club World Cup against other Confederation champions.
Toronto was without at least five starters for its first competitive game since leaving the 2020 MLS Playoffs Nov. 24.
Spain playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, defenders Chris Mavinga and Justin Morrow and midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Nick DeLeon were undressed.
The club said Pozuelo remained in Florida to have what is believed to be a light strain reassessed. Mavinga, Osorio and Morrow were not allowed to play by team medics while DeLeon was a match day decision. Westberg joined the camp late for personal reasons.
Armas, in his first competitive game at the helm, started Ralph Priso, 18, and Noble Okello, 20, in midfield with Jacob Shaffelburg, 21, on the wing. The Toronto bench included Jordan Perruzza, 20, Griffin Dorsey, 22, and Luke Singh, 20, a TFC 2 defenseman who signed a short-term deal before the game.
Leon was without influential captain Luis Montes, serving a suspension after being sent off in last year’s competition against Los Angeles FC.
TFC opens the MLS season on April 17 against CF Montreal in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The winner of Toronto-Leon will face the Mexican Cruz Azul or the Arcahaie FC of Haiti in the quarter-finals. Arcahaie held the visiting Mexicans to a 0-0 draw on Tuesday.
It was 29 degrees Celsius at kickoff at Estadio Leon, where Canada lost 1-0 to France in their 1986 World Cup opener. Attendance was set at 30 percent on Wednesday. with a capacity of 31,297 people.
Leon came on as advertised, moving the ball with a good pass and movement. But the final ball was often missing or the offside flag was raised for the eight-time Mexican champions as they tried to get behind the TFC baseline. Toronto also did a good job of filling up space on their side in the first half.
Both sides got to work early.
Toronto had a chance in the first 30 seconds with Altidore putting a header on a Shaffelburg cross. But Cota was in a good position to make the save.
There were signs of danger from Leon in the third minute as Meneses came on the defense and beat Bono, only to see the offside flag go up. Two minutes later, Toronto captain Michael Bradley tested Cota with a long shot.
Okello had a chance in the 19th minute, with Cota out of position after failing to corral a cross, but his shot went high. A minute later, a beautiful cross from Laryea found Altidore ahead but his shot went right off with the flagstick in an offside position.
Bono found himself in front of a low free kick from Meneses in the 34th minute. Three minutes later, another Leon goal was whistled offside.
Toronto center-back Omar Gonzalez prevented a 42nd-minute goal with a last-minute clear header as Leon threatened a save. Two minutes later, a rushing Joel Campbell just failed to squeeze the ball into the TFC net on a cross.
Campbell took a shot from the goal post in the 57th. And Angel Mena de Leon came within inches of a tap-in at the far post in the 74th after Altidore limped, apparently favoring a leg. An injured Gallardo also had to leave.
Leon won the Liga MX Apertura Liga MX Guardianes title – named after Mexican healthcare workers – in December, beating UNAM Pumas 3-1 on aggregate after a 12-1-4 campaign.
Leon, led by former Mexico international Ignacio (Nacho) Ambriz, was ousted 3-2 on aggregate by Los Angeles FC in last year’s round of 16 after losing a 2-0 lead in the first leg.
Toronto was set to face CPL champion Forge FC in the Canadian Championship final to decide Canada’s entry into the Champions League. But pandemic restrictions delayed Forge’s return to training and the decision was made to give TFC the spot at the tournament and postpone the Canadian final until later in the year, Hamilton’s team becoming the host.
TFC is making his seventh appearance in the tournament and the first since 2019, when he was knocked out by Panama Independiente in the round of 16. Leon makes his third appearance.