Chivas Guadalajara defeated Toronto FC 2-1 on Tuesday night at BMO Field in the opener of the two-leg CONCACAF Champions League final.
Rodolfo Pizarro scored in the second minute as many fans in the near-sellout crowd of 29,925 were settling into their seats. Alan Pulido scored the go-ahead goal for Chivas on a free kick in the 72nd minute.
Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio scored in the 19th minute.
Armed with two precious away goals, the Mexican side will have a big advantage heading into the final’s second leg on April 25 at Estadio Akron.
Toronto received welcome news on the injury front before the game as Jozy Altidore (foot), Chris Mavinga (abdomen), Gregory van der Wiel (Achilles) and Justin Morrow (calf) all returned from injury.
Morrow came on as a substitute in the 67th minute while the others started. Victor Vazquez remained out with a back issue.
The temperature was one degree at kickoff with flurries swirling in off Lake Ontario. The unfamiliar conditions didn’t bother the Mexican side as they silenced the vocal home crowd just 70 seconds into the game.
Isaac Brizuela dribbled down low from the sideline and found Pizarro, who buried it past a diving Alex Bono.
The host side appeared flustered after the early hiccup. Toronto spent the next few minutes on its heels and made sloppy passes when it did get possession.
Eventually the reigning MLS Cup champions settled in and Altidore helped set up the play that put Toronto on the board.
Osorio sparks TFC
He feathered a ball down the right side for Marky Delgado, who connected with Osorio on a goalmouth pass. The Canadian midfielder just got his leg on it before sliding into the post.
The goal seemed to spark the hosts, who kept Chivas pinned in their own end for most of the first half.
Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco tested Chivas goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez in the 32nd minute. The star forward set up for one of his trademark free kicks but the low shot was punched away.
In the 43rd minute, Altidore and Giovinco worked a nifty give-and-go in the penalty area but Rodriguez cut off the angle to deny Altidore’s left-footed strike.
Toronto head coach Greg Vanney made one change at the half as Eriq Zavaleta came on for Mavinga.
Giovinco set up Delgado with a glorious chance early in the second half but his strike sailed just over the bar. Chivas did well to stunt the Toronto attack from there and held off some late pressure in the dying minutes.
The grass surface at BMO Field was covered over the last few days to provide protection from the ice storm and wet weather that pelted the southern Ontario area.
The striped pitch was golf-course green but quite soft with visible pockmarks. Divots of turf were kicked up during pre-game drills but the field seemed to hold up well considering the conditions.
Chivas tightly marks its opponents and the defensive strategy has paid off throughout the competition. The Mexican side allowed only one goal entering the final.
The visitors practised indoors this week and a few came out for the pre-game warmup wearing parkas, gloves, balaclavas and track pants.
Chilly conditions are nothing new for the Toronto players, who have braved the cold into early December during their deep playoff runs the last two seasons.
Snowbanks from the weekend dumping were visible below the north grandstand.
Mexico dominates CONCACAF
Mexican clubs have won every CONCACAF Champions League title since the tournament rebranded in 2009. Seven of the nine finals have been all-Liga MX matches.
Real Salt Lake (2011) and the Montreal Impact (2015) are the last two MLS clubs to reach the final. Toronto made it to the semifinals in 2012.
Toronto defeated MLS side Colorado last February in the round of 16 before topping Tigres in the quarterfinals and Club America in the semifinals.
Chivas doesn’t boast the same firepower as those Mexican sides but its stifling defence can lead to effective counter-strikes.
The chippy play that marked Toronto’s last two rounds was replaced by a more disciplined style.
Chivas has been mediocre in Liga MX this season but has shone on the Champions stage, knocking off Cibao FC, the Seattle Sounders and the New York Red Bulls en route to the final.
The Champions League winner will serve as the CONCACAF representative at the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in December.