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Toronto FC tames Tigres in first leg of CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final

Toronto FC defender Chris Mavinga and UANL Tigres forward Enner Valencia vie for a header during first half CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final action, in Toronto, on March 7, 2018.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Toronto FC gave itself a big shot of confidence in chasing its goal of a CONCACAF Champions League title.

The Reds hung tough with Mexican side Tigres UANL on Wednesday night, refusing to fold when the visitors took the lead. Then they struck for two consecutive goals to forge a 2-1 win at BMO Field in the first game of the two-leg, total-goal quarter-final. The Tigres host the second game next Tuesday.

"We're confident now," said Reds midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who scored the winning goal. "The objective was to leave here with a lead. Obviously a little objective is not to let in a goal but things happen, it's football. We're excited to go there."

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When the game began, TFC was tentative, letting Tigres gain a wide edge in possession, even though the visitors were not able to turn it into anything on the scoreboard. Then, as the half progressed, the Reds found their legs and started to get the better scoring chances.

"I thought once we kind of settled into the game; it took us 15 to 20 minutes where we got pinned in a little bit deep and on our heels," TFC head coach Greg Vanney said. "Once we sorted through some of the details and we were able to extend ourselves a little, I thought from that point on we started to grow more and more into the game.

Toronto FC defeated Mexican heavyweight Tigres UANL 2-1 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions league quarterfinal Wednesday. TFC head coach Greg Vanney says the intensity for the second leg in Mexico will be on a different level. The Canadian Press

"For sure in the second half we were much faster in our attacks, we were much more mobile. Things were happening a lot quicker and we were able to find a rhythm we had in the past."

The second half started off a lot more explosive than the first and inside of 15 minutes each side scored. Tigres were the first to strike when Larry Vasquez fired a long pass up the middle to Eduardo Vargas, who separated himself from TFC defender Chris Mavinga. Vargas made a slick, right-footed kick as the ball bounced off the turf and ripped it past Reds goaltender Alex Bono.

"We made our first mistake when they got behind us and punished us," Vanney said of the Tigres goal. "That was our first real mistake of the game."

Three minutes later, Altidore made a beautiful cross from deep in the box to set up Osorio in front of the net. But his re-direct went over the net. TFC striker Sebastian Giovinco had a free kick from just outside the box a few minutes after that and made a nice arcing kick that was just over the crossbar.

The Reds kept pushing and were rewarded in the 60th minute when Marky Dalgado found Altidore in the middle of the box. Altidore had a defender on him but managed to send the ball along the grass, just out of reach of goaltender Nahuel Guzman to tie the score 1-1.

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Vanney felt Altidore's goal gave his team the confidence they could score against Tigres, the defending Apertura champions of Mexico's Liga MX. The Reds failed to score last week in their Major League Soccer season-opener, a 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew.

"Even up to that point I thought we had a few chances we let slip away," Vanney said. "Against a team like Tigres you can't let too many chances slip away.

"To get that one and break the seal on the goal, because it's been a couple games now since we put one in the back of the net, just motivated the team to keep pushing forward and play for the second one."

After they tied the game earlier in the second half, the Reds pressed hard in the last 20 minutes. In the 79th minute, Vanney sent in midfielder Victor Vazquez, who did not start because he is still dealing with a back injury and Vanney decided to go with a 3-5-2 formation, to punch up the attack.

The payoff came in the 89th minute thanks to Giovinco and Osorio. Giovinco sent the ball to the front of the net from the left side. Osorio spun and made a nifty back-kick, striking the ball with his heel. It zipped behind Guzman and into the net for a 2-1 lead as the crowd of 25,587 at BMO Field roared.

"I sent a good ball out to [Giovinco] and I saw really open space," Osorio said. "[The defenders] came a little bit behind me it was just instinct to do that."

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Tigres, used to playing in the tropical climes of Monterrey, Mexico, had a literal and figurative cold reception at BMO Field. The game-time temperatures were near-freezing and the habitués in the south stands had some unkind words. They unfurled a banner that read "Muertea los gatitos" or kill the kittens.

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