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The Globe and Mail

Toronto FC tops Rapids to advance to Champions League quarter-finals

Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco takes the ball between Colorado Rapids’ Enzo Martinez, right, and Jack Price during CONCACAF Champions League action in Toronto on Feb. 27, 2018.


Toronto FC elected to play efficient rather than spectacular soccer and it served the purpose.

The Reds controlled the ball most of the night Wednesday for a 0-0 draw with their Major League Soccer stablemates, the Colorado Rapids. That gave them a 2-0 win on aggregate in the first-round CONCACAF Champions League two-leg series. While it may not have resembled a typical TFC outing in its 2017 MLS championship season, it was just fine with the crowd of 23,383 at BMO Field as it sent the Reds to the Champions League quarter-finals.

The Reds will meet Mexican side Tigres UNAL in the quarter-finals. Tigres downed CS Herediano 5-3 on aggregate Wednesday night. The first game will be played at BMO Field on Mar. 7 with the return leg in Mexico on Mar. 13.

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TFC head coach Greg Vanney was not about to offer any apologies for the style of game he employed.

"Our job today was to go through. We did that," he said. "In general we were in a good position. We were up 2-0 [from the first game] so it wasn't like we were here with the onus to really spread ourselves out and win the game.

"It's the way 180-minute games are played. You get through, that's what you're supposed to do. I think people forget that. If you can give yourself a lead coming in from the road, you utilize that lead the best way you can."

Neither side played aggressively for very long and the score remained 0-0 well into the second half, although the Reds had the best scoring chances. TFC played it safe in the second half as well, saving its best offensive strikes for the final 10 minutes. They came close to scoring several times but could not find the net.

There was a small scare for TFC in the 25th minute when striker Jozy Altidore went down. He sat at midfield and the medical crew, complete with stretcher-bearers, ran on to the pitch. The stretcher was waved off and Altidore jogged off the pitch but he went straight to the dressing room. However, he returned to play four minutes later and finished the game.

Vanney said Altidore rolled his ankle slightly (he also suffered an ankle injury in last season's Eastern conference final) but he doesn't think the injury was serious.

The Reds players, like Vanney, were not concerned with making Wednesday's game an artistic success.

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"We knew [the Rapids] were going to have to come after us, so we knew if we stayed solid defensively and make it really tough on them to score, then we gave ourselves a good chance of moving on," TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono said. "Obviously, the goal was to keep a clean sheet. Mission accomplished and we move on to the next round."

The Champions League game was the start of a busy week for TFC. The Reds open the MLS season on Saturday at BMO Field against the Columbus Crew. Vanney said he will not worry about preparing for the Tigres until the Columbus game is over.

"In the grand scheme of things we did what we needed to do," he said. "We learned a little bit more about ourselves and what we need to do as we go into Saturday, first against Columbus and then to our next [Champions League] round. But we play one game at a time and Columbus is our next opponent."

The Tigres, who play in the city of San Nicolás de los Garza in the Monterrey metropolitan region, will be a stiff test for TFC. They have been one of the more successful teams in Liga MX, the top Mexican league, in recent years.

"It's going to be a good test for us to see where we stand internationally," Reds midfielder Jonathan Osorio said.

Vanney had more players available for the second game of the Champions League set than he did for the first. Defender Chris Mavinga, who missed the first game with an injury, was available but he did not play until the 83rd minute. Also ready to play was newcomer Gregory van der Wiel, who skipped the game in Colorado due to the birth of his first child – but Vanney elected not to dress him.

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Another new signing, midfielder Ager Aketxe, was in uniform but was not among the starting 11. He made his TFC debut in the 73rd minute, replacing Marky Delgado. Vanney liked what he saw from the Spaniard, who is expected to be an important player this season.

"You can tell he's very comfortable on the ball, he's got a very good sense of how many touches to play," Vanney said. "He knows where his teammates are. I thought he had a couple actions that show his vision to find players who are trying to break lines and sliding balls behind the back line."

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