Chivas Guadalajara surprise Toronto FC to gain vital first-leg lead
TORONTO -- C.D. Guadalajara claimed a precious 2-1 victory in the first leg of the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Rodolfo Pizarro put the visitors on top in the second minute, only for Toronto's Jonathan Osorio to equalize in the midway through the first half.
But with the game appearing to tilt in TFC's direction, Alan Pulido's 72nd minute free kick from the left wing was misjudged by Alex Bono and sailed into the net.
Here are three thoughts on Chivas' victory:
1. Chivas in the driver's seat
Prior to the match there was all kind of talk about the weather, the field conditions, and the fact that Toronto had beaten two of Liga MX's best teams in Tigres and Club America. None of that mattered to Matias Almeyda's side, which held firm defensively when it mattered, and got two vital away goals from Pizarro and Pulido.
After delivering a gritty performance to get past the New York Red Bulls in the previous round, the expectation of Guadalajara was that Tuesday's first leg against Toronto would feature more of the same. But Chivas showed a much greater willingness to get forward and broke on top after scarcely a minute had been played. Isaac Brizuela skinned his man on the end line and his low centering feed was easily fired home by Pizarro.
The goal momentarily stunned the partisan crowd at BMO field, but did little to alter Guadalajara's approach. Once possession was gained, Chivas was intent on attacking as quickly as possible, especially on the right wing, where Chris Mavinga was returning from injury.
But Chivas wasn't without its flaws. Alejandro Mayorga, 20, was starting in place of suspended left-back Edwin Hernandez, and with Pizarro providing scant defensive help, it was from that side that Toronto fashioned an equalizer in the 19th minute. Altidore's diagonal ball caught out Mayorga and found Marco Delgado on the run, and his inch-perfect pass was tapped in by Osorio at the far post.
The match tilted more in favor of the home side for the remainder of the half, but keeper Miguel Jimenez kept Chivas in the match, diving to his right to parry away a Sebastian Giovinco free kick in the 30th minute, and then saving twice from Jozy Altidore at close range.
As the snow fell heavier at times in the second half, it was Toronto that pressed for the game-winner. Yet it was Chivas who delivered. Pulido lofted a free kick from the left wing, and with Bono stepping forward to save any possible header, it sailed over the Toronto keeper and into the top corner, untouched.
Now a tournament title that looked to be there for TFC's taking is in Chivas' grasp.
2. Osorio comes through again, but it's not enough
Before the tournament, Osorio would have been at best fourth on the list of possible leading scorers for Toronto, behind Altidore, Giovinco, and even Michael Bradley. Yet the Canadian international has come through for vital goals in every round of the Champions League for TFC, and his goal Tuesday gives him the tournament lead outright, with four. To add context to Osorio's contribution he's scored 17 goals in 170 league and cup appearances over six seasons.
Osorio has shown himself to be a crafty operator over the course of his career, but now he's added an exquisite sense of timing to his game, and his goals are a huge reason Toronto is in the final.
Yet on this night, it wasn't enough. Toronto proved wasteful in front of goal, especially in the first half following Osorio's strike. It also looked vulnerable at times on the counter-attack. And Bono will no doubt rue the manner of Pulido's game-winner. It's a play that is tougher than it looks. On the one hand, Bono had to prepare for any possible contact. But he also needed to honor the trajectory of Pulido's delivery. At this level, on this stage, it's a play that he needed to make and didn't.
That said, Toronto isn't completely sunk. It has proven itself to be a difficult opponent on the road in this competition. But in previous rounds, TFC entered the away leg with a lead. Now it will be forced to chase the game against a side that has proven itself to be dangerous on the counter. Without question, TFC will need to play the perfect match in Guadalajara to not only prevail, but by a big enough margin to claim the trophy.
3. Mixed bag for Chivas depth, but help is on the way
There were questions heading into the match about just how much Chivas would miss usual starting goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota and the suspended Hernandez. Mayorga looked lost at times, and was seen arguing with Pizarro about this defensive responsibilities. He was replaced by Javier Lopez in the 71st minute.
As for Jimenez, he had made just 20 first team appearances with Chivas since 2011, and the vast majority of those had come in Copa MX action. On this night, Jimenez helped more than he hurt. Sure, he nearly gifted TFC a goal when a pass out of the back caught his teammate not looking for the ball. He also should have done better in dealing with Delgado's pass in the lead up to Osorio's goal. But the 28-year-old came up big when it mattered, especially in the first half when Toronto created several wide-open chances. His stop from Giovinco's free kick was the best of the bunch.
Considering that in addition to Cota and Hernandez, Chivas will also welcome back center-back Jair Pereira from suspension, Almeyda will love his side's chances back at Estadio Akron.
Chivas has proven to be a tough team to break down throughout the tournament. Osorio's goal was just the second Chivas has conceded in the CCL. Guadalajara also showed in the first leg how adept it is at harrying and harassing a team to the point where a usually slick-passing team like Toronto can get thrown off its game.
Now with three starters returning, Chivas finds itself just 90 minutes away from claiming the CCL title.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.