Bryan Angulo scored twice as Mexican league leader Cruz Azul defeated Toronto FC 3-1 in the first leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final Tuesday night.
The result means TFC will have to score at least three goals and restrict the Cruz Azul attack next Tuesday in the second leg at Mexico City’s famed Azteca Stadium. The series winner will face either MLS champion Columbus or Mexico’s Monterrey in the semifinal of CONCACAF’s flagship club competition.
Set pieces cost Toronto, not the first time this young season, with goals coming off both a corner and free kick. The other followed a TFC turnover.
The game was played behind closed doors at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, home to the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 65,000-capacity venue hosted WrestleMania 37 on April 10-11.
Pablo Aguilar, a big presence at centre back alongside Juan Escobar, also scored for Cruz Azul. Jonathan Osorio replied for Toronto, which moved the ball around but did not manufacture many chances.
It was 25 degree Celsius for the 10 p.m. ET kickoff.
WATCH | TFC falls to Cruz Azul:
Ecuador’s Angulo stunned Toronto in the third minute, curling a superb right-footed shot from just outside the penalty box into the far corner past Alex Bono. The play started with a Jozy Altidore giveaway just inside the Cruz Azul half.
Osorio pulled Toronto even in the 20th minute, showing a nice turn of speed to beat Cruz Azul defender Ignacio Rivero to the ball and send a low cross into a crowded penalty box. The ball bounced off two Cruz Azul defenders before falling to Osorio, who tucked it in underneath 40-year-old Mexican international goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
The Mexican side appeared to have gone ahead two minutes later on a free kick when an off-balance Escobar scored on a fine header. But the goal was called back for offside upon video review, newly introduced to the competition.
Video review saved Toronto again six minutes later when referee Ricardo Montero, after checking the pitchside monitor, decided there was no handball after Rafael Baca’s shot hit Osorio from close range. Osorio seemed more concerned about protecting his body from the shot than getting an arm to it.
Set pieces sink TFC
But the Mexicans kept coming and Angulo made it 2-1 in the 34th minute off an Orbelin Pineda corner, with an unmarked Aguilar headed the ball on to the far post where Angulo beat Morrow to knock it in.
Another set piece letdown led to a third Cruz Azul with the powerful Aguilar rising above Michael Bradley to head in a Pineda free kick in the 58th minute to make it 3-1.
Cruz Azul came into the match atop the Liga MX standings at 13-2-1 and unbeaten in 16 games (14-0-2) in all competitions. Toronto, in contrast, collected just one point from its first two games of the MLS season, losing 4-2 to CF Montreal and tying Vancouver 2-2.
Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo (thigh) and French defender Chris Mavinga (calf) remained on the sidelines while fullback Richie Laryea was suspended for yellow card accumulation.
Toronto’s Bradley, Mark Delgado and Ralph Priso went into the match on yellow cards.
After going behind early, Toronto regrouped but the Cruz Azul defence was up to the task when the MLS side threatened. The Mexicans outshot Toronto 9-3 (5-2 on target) in the first half.
Altidore, Osorio exit early in 2nd half
Altidore and Osorio, given their limited playing time recently, were replaced in the 59th minute. A minute later, Cruz Azul brought on high-scoring Uruguayan forward Jonathan Rodriguez.
Substitute Santiago Gimenez’s header hit the Toronto goalpost in the 72nd minute. Rodriguez appealed for a penalty to no avail in the 85th after running into centre back Eriq Zavaleta.
Toronto dispatched defending Liga MX champion Mexico’s Club Leon 3-2 on aggregate in the round of 16, tying 1-1 in Leon and then winning 2-1 in Florida despite an injury-riddled roster.
Cruz Azul downed Arcahaie FC 8-0 on aggregate in its round-of-16 tie, bouncing back from a scoreless first leg to thump the Haitian side in the rematch at Azteca.
TFC was one of three Toronto teams playing in the area Tuesday evening. The Raptors lost 116-103 to the Brooklyn Nets at Tampa’s Amalie Arena while the Blue Jays defeated the Washington Nationals 9-5 at nearby TD Ballpark in Dunedin.
The Canadian teams have set up shop in the Sunshine State due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Founded in 1927, Cruz Azul has won the CONCACAF Champions League six times — most recently in 2014. Toronto reached the final in 2018, losing to Chivas Guadalajara in a penalty shootout.
Tuesday marked the third time the teams have met in Champions League play, with the first two times in group play in 2010-11. TFC won 2-1 at BMO Field and the teams tied 0-0 in Mexico City.