Toronto FC wanted it and with Cruz Azul, it has got it.
The club has long desired to play in big tournaments against well-regarded sides and the Mexican opponents invading BMO for the CONCACAF Champions League group stage opener Tuesday certainly fit the bill.
Cruz Azul has won its division eight times (only one team has won more often), became the first CONCACAF or Mexican squad to reach the Copa Libertadores and has dominated this tournament, losing in the final the past two years.
“Cruz Azul is the biggest test for us this season,” said midfielder Julian de Guzman.
“From what I understand, they are the Real Madrid of CONCACAF with lots of titles under their belts.”
Still, the Reds did not sound overly intimidated by their more presitigious opponents after training Monday.
“That’s not going to scare us. We’re expecting a tough team but at the same time, we know we can beat them, especially at home,” de Guzman continued.
“Anytime you get into a competition, you want to prove that you’re good enough to be there and good enough to compete,” said defender Dan Gargan.
“I think MLS teams haven’t necessarily showed completely what they can do and I think this will be a good opportunity for us to beat a (top) team.”
TFC head coach Preki said his club was in good spirits and amped up for a match against one of the most powerful teams in the region.
Preki said Mexican teams still have an edge over MLS sides, but it might not be as much as it used to be.
“I just feel there’s a ways to go before we start competing with some of these teams,” Preki said.
“The economics with our league and their league is different and that plays a big part in it, (but) I’d like to think we’re narrowing the gap and we’re going to be more and more competitive (going forward).”
Though the coach was loathe to say much about Los Cementeros or the tactics he would employ to get a good result, de Guzman did say he will be used in a defensive role, a telling sign that the Reds will be looking to keep the score low.
Preki doesn’t really have much of a choice. A team that has not exactly put fear in the eyes of opposing keepers now must try to find some offence minus its two hottest strikers, Chad Barrett and Maicon Santos.
A knee injury continues to sideline Maicon Santos, while Barrett has not been able to train since Wednesday due to a hamstring issue.
Their absence will put the pressure on designated player Mista, who has looked average, at best, since joining the Reds and on O’Brian White, in the midst of an inconsistent sophomore campaign.
Captain Dwayne De Rosario might also see more time than usual up front now that midfielder Martin Saric is “closer and closer” to returning, according to his coach.
Cruz Azul does not always travel with its top lineup early in this tournament, but standout captain Gerardo Torrado will make the trip.
“They’re high-calibre players,” said goalie Stefan Frei.
“No matter who’s going to come, they’re going to be a very skillful team, so we’ve got to be ready.”
Or else, with three CONCACAF road games looming before the next BMO match, this tourney could be over very quickly for the Reds.