Matias Almeyda works around Chivas' limitations to deliver first-leg win over Toronto

Chivas CONCACAF Champions League
Dan Hamilton
The Guadalajara side was weakened by suspensions and injuries but still heads home with the advantage thanks, in part, to the Argentine manager

Matias Almeyda sat before the press in Toronto and delivered a much more low-key news conference than the one the Canadian press had received previously from America manager Miguel Herrera.

The Argentine sounded more like a salesman excited to get off the road for a few days than a soccer manager.

It's been a brutal stretch for Chivas involving travel to New York and back before going to Tijuana and straight on to frigid Toronto. The end is in sight. Almeyda has two tough matches to prepare for in the next seven days with Friday's Clasico Tapatio against Atlas and next week's second leg of the final, but if he draws up game plans like the ones he did in Tuesday's 2-1 first-leg CCL final win over Toronto, he'll be the most popular man in Guadalajara.

"I try to live in the present. I’m happy about the game, the result obviously, because we came here and we’re concentrated. We’re going home to be with our families, but we quickly have to think about the Clasico coming and we can’t just stay with today’s result because there’s another match left," Almeyda said in the post-match news conference when asked how he'd feel if he were able to secure the ticket to the Club World Cup. "If God wants it to happen, obviously I’ll be very happy, but there’s still a match so we can’t get ahead of ourselves."

It was no secret why he's calmer than Miguel Herrera, who accused Toronto police of assaulting his players, was. First of all, he isn't Miguel Herrera. Second, because his team was actually able to take a result from BMO Field, something neither Herrera's America nor Tuca Ferretti's Tigres were able to do.

The pundits had labeled Toronto as the favorite (this writer is guilty as charged). But after Chivas sat back and survived an onslaught from the New York Red Bulls, it seemed like Toronto would take advantage of the Liga MX side. After all, while the Red Bulls got plenty out of Bradley Wright-Phillips, there's a reason TFC and its attack of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio are MLS Cup champions.

Almeyda knew his team couldn't play the same way it did in the semifinal, but he also realized he couldn't throw out the kind of team he wanted to. With goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota, center back Jair Pereira and left back Edwin Hernandez suspended and right back Jesus Sanchez still out because of an injury, he had to improvise. In league matches, he'd played a winger as a right back. This time he went with three center backs, tossing in an inexperienced Alejandro Mayorga on the left, and had midfielder Michael Perez drop deep to provide cover when Giovinco pushed up to create imbalances.

This isn't a story of the players filling in for the missing players overcoming. Mayorga was exposed on Toronto's goal where a better defender would've intercepted Altidore's pass that set Delgado free down the wing. It's a story of Almeyda figuring out how to paper over the imperfections at the back.

Jozy Altidore Isaac Brizuela Toronto FC Chivas CONCACAF Champions League

Article continues below

"It was a tough game. We think they have really good players. Defensively, the team performed excellently," the coach said. "Despite the fact that the playing surface wasn’t good for either team, we tried to play our game and we did so for moments. The match was very even, and we were able to take a small advantage."

That advantage came as he allowed his attacking players to get forward instead of being pinned back like they were against New York or having attacking players fill in as defenders, as some have in league matches. Isaac Brizuela and Rodolfo Pizarro gave Toronto a punch in the nose by combining for a second-minute goal and Alan Pulido's (probably totally accidental but still awesome) free kick mean Almeyda's men have the advantage.

Now the series heads to the Estadio Chivas where an expectant fan base will wait for Chivas' first international title since 1962. They've seen Chivas win just three matches at home in 2018, but all three came in this tournament. With Cota, Pereira and Hernandez set to return, Almeyda may not have to pull a rabbit out of his hat in the second leg like he did in the first. Even so, the measured manager will do everything to make sure he's feeling relaxed and triumphant next week.