Toronto FC to face Colorado in CONCACAF Champions League during MLS off-season
Toronto FC's Alex Bono (left) Jozy Altidore (centre) and Eriq Zavaleta pose for a selfie as they celebrate their victory in the MLS Cup final following a parade through downtown Toronto on Monday, December 11, 2017. oronto FC is hoping a short off-season will help carry the momentum from their MLS Cup championship into the round of 16 in the CONCACAF Champions League, which begins Tuesday in Colorado.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, February 19, 2018 4:53PM EST
Toronto FC is hoping a short off-season will help carry the momentum from their MLS Cup championship into the round of 16 in the CONCACAF Champions League, which begins Tuesday in Colorado.
The Reds travel to face the Rapids in the first leg just 10 weeks after the franchise's first MLS title.
“I think the abbreviation kind of kept guys in tune and in shape a little bit,” said defender Eriq Zavaleta. “Guys are excited to get back around each other and working with each other.
“Having meaningful games to start the season is something that's going to sort of catch our attention a little bit more so than maybe just the regular season.”
While the Reds finished 2017 as the league champions and winners of the supporter's shield as the top MLS regular season club, the Rapids were on the opposite end of the table finishing in 10th in the Western Conference well outside the playoff picture.
Colorado and Toronto met just once during the regular season in 2017 playing to a 1-1 draw at BMO Field in July, but the new Rapids squad that the Reds will play on Tuesday is much different than the one they faced last July.
One of the main changes include Colorado's new coach Anthony Hudson.
“They're obviously a group that's a little bit of a work in progress with a new coach and a new system and all of that,” said TFC coach Greg Vanney. “By the looks of it, they're in a 3-5-2, at times they'll be very aggressive and look to try to press and try to force the tempo on us from a defensive perspective, which we'll have to be able to manage that appropriately to control the tempo of the game and break 'em down.”
Toronto spent part of their training camp in Mexico City training at 7,300 feet above sea level to prepare for the high elevation in Colorado's field.
With the Rapids' pitch sitting at 5,200 feet above sea level, players say they feel well prepared for the challenge presented by playing at altitude.
“Part of the reason we went to Mexico obviously was to get acclimated,” said TFC defender Drew Moor, who spent seven seasons playing in Colorado. “I didn't realize how much higher Mexico City is than Colorado - it's considerably higher. Our lungs should be adjusted to that for that reason. I think we can put that out of our minds and just focus on the soccer.”
This is the fifth time TFC has qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League - they lost to Mexican side Santos Laguna in the group stage during the 2012-13 season.
The league pits top soccer clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean against each other..
Colorado is playing in the champions league for the third time in franchise history and the first since 2011.
“I think when you start with a champions league game like we do, we're straight into the round of 16, it's a tournament that we will take one game at a time, but it's extremely important to us,” said Moor. “It's a tournament that Toronto has been in before and we want to have some success in it.”
Forward Tosaint Ricketts returned to training last week after missing most of training camp due to a thyroid issue, but remains questionable for Tuesday.
The second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League will be played at BMO Field on Feb. 27.
TFC begins its defence of the MLS Cup on March 3 at the season opener against the Columbus Crew. It's the first time in franchise history the Reds will open a season at home.