TORONTO — As Toronto FC prepares for Wednesday's first leg of its CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Tigres UNAL, the club is hoping time spent in Mexico during the pre-season will provide an advantage.
The Reds played two pre-season games in Mexico last month, falling 6-3 to Club America before defeating Cruz Azul 4-1.
"I think its valuable for our group to play a Mexican league opponent," said coach Greg Vanney. "At least for the first 40-45 minutes, (Club America) put their top group on so we got a good sense of what their priorities are when they play, which is not miles away from how Tigres sees the game and so I think it was a good experience for us.
"I think just to understand and to get a sense of style of play and some of those things are always important and effective."
TFC advanced to the quarterfinals after defeating the Colorado Rapids 2-0 on aggregate in the round of 16. The Reds then opened their Major League Soccer regular season with a 2-0 loss to the visiting Columbus Crew on Saturday.
Despite having three meaningful games under their belt, Toronto knows Tigres presents a different test.
"I think the style of play changes a little bit, for sure," said midfielder Jonathan Osorio. "Columbus is a very good team, I think it was good for us to play them before this match coming up, but it'll definitely be different.
"We prepared well in pre-season, we played against Club America, which was good to get a sense of what their style of play in Mexico is and this is a team that has been very successful in the last few years so it's going to be tough."
Tigres advanced to the quarterfinals after defeating Herediano 5-3 on aggregate.
One of the top clubs in Liga MX, Monterrey-based Tigres has won the league championship six times, including last year, and currently sits fourth in the standings after 10 games.
One of the Tigres' biggest threats is French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac — a player Toronto is well aware of.
"Known his game for a little while. Very good player, very clever around the box," said Vanney. "Can be used in different ways. Some times they'll use him as a second forward and (Enner) Valencia will stay high and he'll kind of threaten space and Gignac will drop as a midfielder and arrive in the box.
"We have to be heightened in terms of our awareness, we need to be collective in how we defend, we can't get separated and split apart. We have to be pretty close to each other and we've got to team-defend well."
The second leg of the quarterfinal will be played on March 14 in Monterrey.
The winner of the TFC-Tigres series will play the winner of Club America-Tauro in the semifinals.
Victor Vazquez remains a question mark for TFC heading into the first leg. The midfielder exited Saturday's loss to Columbus in the 53rd minute due to injury. Vazquez participated in training on Monday and Tuesday and Vanney listed him as "day-to-day."
The Reds are on a bye in MLS this week before returning to action on March 17 against the Impact in Montreal.
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press