Doomed by missed chances, TFC falls just short of CCL title dream

Orlando Ramirez
The MLS champion had every chance to win the regional crown, but couldn't overcome a series of missed chances over two legs against Chivas

Maybe Marky Delgado had too much time to think about the dream scenario of a former Chivas USA homegrown player and childhood Chivas Guadalajara fan scoring the last-second winner to defeat Chivas in the CONCACAF Champions League final. As Sebastian Giovinco's cross floated perfectly to him, Delgado turned and sent his shot just over the bar.

It's a miss that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

It wasn't the only big miss of the night by TFC, and certainly not of the only missed chance of the two-legged series, but the moment was a fitting microcosm of a tie that saw the MLS champion ultimately pay the price for wasting too many golden opportunities. 

Taken on its own, TFC's performance on Wednesday night in Guadalajara was epic. Missing an entire back line worth of defenders, Toronto went out and erased a 2-1 first-leg deficit in a packed Estadio Chivas, outplaying the home side despite having to play a center back pairing of Michael Bradley and Gregory Van Der Weil.

Unfortunately for TFC, the ghosts of the first leg were too much to overcome, and when Delgado saw his dream moment pass him by, the club was doomed to the unforgiving fate of penalty kicks. For the second time in three years Toronto lost a penalty shootout with a trophy on the line when Michael Bradley sent his penalty kick into the crowd, sealing the club's fate.

Chivas deserves a ton of credit for winning its first CONCACAF title in 56 years, and doing it in the midst of an otherwise nightmare season in Liga MX. Matias Almeyda's men knocked off three straight MLS opponents, including a TFC side that had vanquished tournament favorites Tigres and Club America. Chivas did it with some excellent defending and goalkeeping along with some masterful coaching by Almeyda, who overcame his team's attacking limitations and got his players to buy into a defensive approach that required an incredible amount of effort.

Despite falling short of the title, TFC still put the finishing touches on what was easily the best CCL run ever put together by an MLS team, and the best 12-month stretch in league history. Greg Vanney's men had long ago solidified their place as the best team in MLS history, but falling within a penalty shootout of winning four pieces of silverware when had never even seen an MLS team win three was an accomplishment worth noting. It is also a new bar that MLS teams will find it very difficult to reach.

Nobody at TFC is likely to care about moral victories or silver linings, but there is no denying that the club earned MLS some serious respect with its CCL run, and put Liga MX teams on notice that MLS clubs now have the resources to build teams that can compete with, and beat, the best teams in Mexico. TFC's CCL run wasn't RSL's 2011 run to the CCL final – which saw the MLS side avoid Mexican teams in the knockout rounds before falling to eventual champion Monterrey. This also wasn't the 2015 Montreal Impact, who knocked off a young Pachuca side in the semifinals and gave Club America a fight in the first leg of the final before being demolished in Montreal in the second leg.

No, this TFC team eliminated the tournament's two biggest favorites, Tigres and Club America, and pushed Chivas to the brink in their own stadium. They did so with a level of quality never before seen in an MLS team.

Michael Bradley Toronto FC CONCACAF Champions League

Jonathan Osorio Toronto FC CONCACAF Champions League

Now it will be up the the rest of MLS to try and get to that level, because until more teams join Toronto in making deep CCL runs - and beating top Liga MX teams along the way - the debate about the gap between Liga MX and MLS won't be worth having. The gap between TFC and Liga MX has closed, now it's up to the league's other powers to put together the kind of squads that can reach, and eventually win, a final.

There are some teams that are showing real potential to do just that in the near future. Atlanta United and New York City FC are the best candidates to join Toronto FC, and Los Angeles FC has the makings of a team that will be able to compete on that level sooner rather than later. MLS has given clubs more and more resources to build deep and strong squads, now it's up to the rest of the league to match the ambition of the aforementioned teams.

Toronto FC will have to wait another year, as will the rest of MLS, to try and finally wrest that elusive CCL trophy away from Liga MX. And as much as MLS fans are used to the feeling of CCL disappointment by now, Wednesday felt different. It was more painful because TFC had the team to win the title, and to do so convincingly.

Instead of another trophy, TFC is left with the memories of the chances missed and the opportunity lost, along with a pain that won't go away unless and until this club can finish the job next year.