Toronto FC deserves to celebrate CONCACAF Champions League triumph over Tigres

Azael Rodriguez
The job isn't done for the reigning MLS champion, but getting past the Liga MX titleholders is a special accomplishment

There will be efforts to undercut what Toronto FC just did. Critics will point out the overall record of MLS teams in Mexico. They'll say TFC didn't play well or it was a fluke. Some of the well-versed detractors might point out right back Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez's injury absence makes Tigres a less impressive team.

Don't pay any attention. What Toronto FC did in advancing past the reigning Liga MX champion thanks to an away goal advantage in a series that ended 4-4 on aggregate is impressive. It deserves praise.

The Reds themselves will be the first to tell you their job isn't done. The hard part may be still to come. The reigning Liga MX champion has been eliminated, but the form team still remains. Club America, undefeated in Liga MX play this season and currently smashing CCL competition, awaits in the semifinals. Then, if TFC makes it that far, it will face an MLS rival or a Chivas team desperate to get something out of this tournament.

Tuesday, and last week's dramatic win, still will be memorable, even if TFC doesn't become the first-ever MLS team to lift the trophy. 

MLS teams have been horrible in Mexico. Toronto wasn't stunning, either. It got the result through a few excellent individual performances. It was impressive enough to make it more than an hour before Tigres found the back of the net after losing right wingback Justin Morrow to injury so early in the game. Then, TFC had to replace Chris Mavinga, who made a stunning block to deny Jesus Duenas in the first half.

Toronto continued to find Sebastian Giovinco on the right side, where perhaps a healthy Rodriguez would've changed the game. It seems doubtful as determined as the "Atomic Ant" clearly was. Rumors of Tigres rival Monterrey taking advantage of the Italian visiting for CCL to try and make an approach seemed silly. Now, Rayados directors must be sending WhatsApp messages to every agent in Italy.

That Rayados are even being mentioned in the same breath as players from Toronto shows how TFC has helped close the gap. Salary restrictions have been relaxed, with TAM allowing Toronto to acquire players like Gregory van der Wiel in addition to the trio of designated players made up of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Giovinco. MLS academies were involved in producing players like Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado  who played big parts in TFC's triumph. More talent and deeper teams. Top down and bottom up. Theses are the things MLS has been banking on paying off eventually. Has the moment finally arrived? It has in some respects.

Back to Giovinco, who was excellent Tuesday night. He created the first goal from virtually nothing, getting into the final third but finding no players in support. Finally Jonathan Osorio joined him and played a one-two. After Altidore recovered from a collision that had him down in the center circle, Giovinco looked to find him with a pass that Rafael Carioca ended up putting into his own net.

His free kick goal? Well, you've seen his free kick goal by now, but here it is again. 

Tigres manager Tuca Ferretti wasn't necessarily blown away by Toronto, but he took a reasonable approach after the elimination as Tigres continue the search for a first-ever international crown. Tigres tried and tried to claw back, and ended up finding three goals in the second half including two from Andre-Pierre Gignac. Ultimately, though, a TFC defense anchored by Drew Moor and backed up by goalkeeper Alex Bono were able to escape El Volcan without being burned.

"The elimination leaves us sad, but I'm at peace because the team did everything, everything it had to do to go to the next round. But, it didn't happen for us today," Ferretti said at his postmatch news conference. "The team played really well, did things very well, but the winner isn't always the one who plays better. I think today we were much better. The truth is, we saw a very good performance. If I'm not mistaken, I think they had two, three chances. But this is a game where you take advantage of the opportunities, and they took advantage of them. Us, of the many that we had, we couldn't finish something more."

Those of us who watch this sport are demanding. You won it once? Win it again. You won four straight? Why not five? It's easy to overlook the moments that really are special and really are worth celebrating. What Toronto FC did in knocking the reigning champion, a team in good form, out of a continental championship Tigres definitely wanted to win is historic. Some of that history is precisely because of how poor MLS has been against Mexican teams in this tournament. Toronto can't do anything about that history, though. They can only control the present.

They got out of a wild series against another top team. It's an accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated.