Ahead of tonight’s Champions League match in Mexico City, Pumas head coach Guillermo Vazquez said his side will stay the course against TFC despite a five-game domestic losing skid.
“There are many young people with an opportunity,” Vazquez told Mexican media outlet Mediotiempo.com. “This is a competition I think I can get with this group.”
Coming away with a single point from its first two Champions League Group C matches, the 2011 Mexican Clausura champions are prepared to use a large number of experimental players tonight.
In a translated interview, Pumas’ bench boss said he would field a similar lineup to the one that drew in Panama against Tauro on match-day two — a game that saw the Panamanians play the better part of an hour with 10 men before settling for a scoreless draw.
“In (Champions League) we will stay the same,” Vazquez said. “We keep improving every (match).”
Those improvements have taken place since Pumas provided MLS its first-ever victory on Mexican soil when group leader FC Dallas beat the Mexican side on match-day one. The Hoops went on to dispatch TFC a week later to remain perfect after two away matches in CONCACAF group play.
The Reds currently sit three points back of Dallas following an opening-day win in Panama while Tauro and Pumas sit level on one point apiece.
Full of confidence following an historic 4-2 MLS win over rival Columbus on Saturday, TFC heads to Mexico for the first time since last year’s surprise draw at Cruz Azul — a result that saw the Reds remain unbeaten against Mexican opposition.
In terms of domestic competition, tonight’s contest matches a pair of clubs that are trending in opposite directions.
While the Reds have been one of the best teams in MLS over their last five games, Pumas fell to eighth in the Mexican Primera Division after a 4-0 loss to Queretaro last weekend.
Out of form and expected to field an underwhelming lineup — assuming the Hoops take three points from Tauro in Dallas tonight — a Pumas loss would make the likelihood of both MLS clubs advancing from Group C a strong possibility.
But that will happen only if TFC can manage the game without a number pieces that were instrumental in providing Toronto its first MLS road win of the season over the weekend.
Toronto will go without a key defensive piece in Richard Eckersley due to a red card the Englishman received in TFC’s previous Champions League loss to FC Dallas.
Similarly, upon returning from injury, supporters watched starting ’keeper Stefan Frei hobble off in Columbus after receiving a hard challenge from the Crew’s Emilio Renteria Saturday.
Although it remains unclear what role Frei will fill, TFC’s first-choice ’keeper travelled to Mexico and could feature. Along the same lines, it’s unclear if Danny Koevermans has achieved full match fitness despite scoring a goal in 10 minutes of work against the Crew.
Head coach Aron Winter might replace Julian de Guzman with a well-rested Terry Dunfield after the Canadian international didn’t dress in Columbus in what might have been preparation for TFC’s match in Mexico City.
Following a disappointing home loss to Dallas, the Reds are in desperate need of at least a point. While a loss doesn’t seal Toronto’s fate, it will force the Reds to take at least six points from their three remaining Champions League group matches if they hope to advance to next year’s knockout phase.
With Pumas confident it can secure maximum points with a largely experimental side, the Reds have an opportunity to punish a Mexican club that appears to have miscalculated the difficulties of advancing within CONCACAF.
CONCACAF QUICK HITS
- The Reds enter tonight’s match with a 2-2-3 all-time road record in Champions League play, with both road wins coming in 2011 over Nicaragua’s Real Esteli and Panama’s Tauro.
- Heading into match-day three, an MLS team sits atop each of the four CONCACAF Champions League groups.
- Following their match in Mexico City, the Reds stay at home for the next two group stage dates to close September. The Reds host what many consider to be a must-win return match against Panama’s Tauro next Tuesday.
- Should the Reds finish top two in Group C, the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Championship knockout rounds begin next March.