Last night, Toronto FC knocked off Mexican soccer giant Cruz Azul to kickstart Group A of the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League.
Cruz Azul, often nicknamed the Real Madrid of CONCACAF due to their record five championships (tied with Club America for most in tournament history) and back-to-back finals appearances, just couldn't keep up with Toronto, looking sluggish in the opening half which allowed TFC to get out to a 2-0 lead that the Mexico City squad just couldn't recover from, eventually falling 2-1.
The win marks the first for Major League Soccer's only Canadian team in tournament history, though realistically, TFC nor the "league" style tournament is not old enough for that to be considered a big deal. Why it is a big deal, however, is that last year TFC fell in the preliminary round to the Puerto Rico Islanders of the USSF Division 2.
The win is already being called the greatest victory in the club's short history, and it very well may be. The early win gives TFC a good chance to advance out of the group, as many believe that Cruz Azul are the favourites to claim the group. The other teams in the group are Panama's Arabe Unido and Real Salt Lake, also of MLS.
Since CONCACAF changed their championship system to the current league structure, just two MLS teams have advanced to the championship round (quarterfinals): Houston Dynamo in 2008-09, and Columbus Crew in 2009-10.
Now that TFC have earned an important and early three points in their group over the toughest opponent, they look poised and ready to advance out of their group. Two wins should be easy against the Panama squad, while the matchups against RSL will be tough. The Reds lost the first regular season match between the two sides this year, and both teams are sitting in the top three of their respective MLS conferences.
Regardless, a win for the Canadian side over the Mexican superpower has huge meanings for Canadian soccer and the MLS. Though Montreal Impact advanced to the quarterfinals in the inaugural year of the Champions League, their run went virtually unnoticed by the media, while TFC is branded as "Canada's team", and a run could bring national attention and support to the team.
The win is also huge for MLS. The league has struggled to earn respect among other major domestic leagues, but if their clubs can continue to produce wins over Mexican Primera division clubs, respect is sure to go up.
As American and Canadian teams continue to be more competitive with those of the Mexican league, it is inevitable that an MLS team will claim the Champions League (possibly as early as this year), which allows them to travel to the FIFA World Club Cup, where they could really put MLS on the map by taking on the best club teams from the other football conferences of the world.
Should a team like TFC or Seattle or RSL make it to the World Club Cup and defeat the UEFA or CONMEBOL representative, it would bring international attention to the league, and to teams aside from Galaxy or Red Bulls.
While the tournament is still very early, the Toronto FC victory is no small feat, and could lead to much greater things for the club, Major League Soccer, and Canadian soccer in general.
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Photo belongs to the CBC.