The first ever Campeones Cup is in the books, after Tigres' 3-1 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday night. But after a week in which no one quite knew what to expect from this meeting of champions of Major League Soccer and Liga MX, or just how much the trophy meant to the teams and leagues participating, Jeff Carlisle and Tom Marshall spoke to those who participated about the Campeones Cup's place in the North American game.
Toronto FC: right game, wrong time
There is plenty that is weighing heavy on Toronto FC at the moment.
The Reds' defense of their treble-winning season from a year ago hasn't gone at all like they would have hoped. The Supporters Shield is already guaranteed to end up in another team's possession, and barring a miracle finish to the regular season, the defense of their MLS Cup title will end before the playoffs even start.
Amid these difficulties, TFC had the added task of playing in the inaugural Campeones Cup against Liga MX counterparts Tigres. The event has been criticized in some corners as a "cash grab" but by that definition so are other Super Cup-type fixtures the world over.
Both teams tried to drum up the requisite enthusiasm and each manager fielded close to full-strength lineups. But it was clear from Tigres' comprehensive victory that TFC's focus was elsewhere.
Tigres no doubt are a quality side and duly punished Toronto's defensive mistakes on the night. Yet Toronto manager Greg Vanney already had his eye on Saturday's league fixture against the New York Red Bulls. Sebastian Giovinco was pulled as a precautionary measure after 40 minutes due to calf tightness. Jozy Altidore departed in the 56th minute. Vanney said afterwards that midfielder Victor Vasquez could have played but he opted to keep him out.
So what did Vanney make of the event?
"It's interesting to have the two champions playing each other," said Vanney. "It's just a tough time of year for us right now. That's just the facts of the situation. At some point we also have to keep in mind that we have an important match on the weekend, and that was part of our choices here along the way."
That seemed to sum up Toronto's collective thought about the match: nice concept, bad timing. The locals seemed to agree as only 14,823 fans bothered to turn up, though there are a few reasons why BMO Field wasn't filled, Toronto's difficult season among them. Yet Toronto captain Michael Bradley remained bullish on the idea.
"I think it has huge potential," said Bradley. "I think when you look around the world, these Super Cup-type games are great things, and then when you add in the rivalry that exists in our region between American or Canadian teams and Mexican teams, national teams, I think this is a game that is going to continue to grow in a big way."
Part of the complaints about timing are down to TFC's unexpectedly poor season. Had it been solidly among the playoff places, it would have been less of an issue, yet it hung like a dark cloud over the event. That goes for Tigres as well, who have to face Monterrey in the Clasico Regio this weekend.
"I wouldn't play it midseason, I'll tell you that," said Toronto midfielder Marky Delgado. "It's tough. The season starts in March, ends in October and even then depends on how far you make it in playoffs. It's tough to say. I figure it was tough for them as well so they throw it in midseason."
So when should it happen? It has to take place after Liga MX's Clausura tournament ends in May. International tournaments rule out June and July, all of which leaves some time in August or September.
Perhaps all that is needed is not so much timing but a bit of time and some back-and-forth to put some meat on the proverbial bone when it comes to the rivalry between the two leagues. There was certainly a bit of that created in the most recent edition of the CONCACAF Champions League but a knockout tournament is allowed to breathe a bit. Creating that in a one-off match will be a bigger challenge.
The event's future editions will determine whether the Campeones Cup reaches that level of intensity. -- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
Duenas: Tigres gave everything to win Campeones Cup
Tigres midfielder Jesus Duenas reflects on what it took to overcome Toronto FC and the significance of winning the first Campeones Cup.
Tigres UANL: a nice confidence boost
Tigres players exited their dressing room inside BMO Field blasting music and in high spirits as they headed directly to their charter flight back to Mexico. Lifting the Campeones Cup hadn't sparked an exuberant celebration that would accompany, say, a Liga MX title, but it represented another trophy in the club's title-laden decade.
It also represented a confidence boost with the Liga MX's 2018 Apertura tournament now over the halfway mark and Sunday's Clasico Regio against Monterrey -- the biggest game in Tigres' regular season -- already the talk of the media.
Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti was reluctant to chat after the win about the upcoming game -- saying he instead deserved a bit of time to celebrated -- although it had been quite obvious that the club wasn't delighted at having to make the trip from Monterrey all the way up to Toronto. But it was actually the Liga MX team that took the game more seriously and played with more do-or-die spirit than their MLS opponent.
Ferretti picked his strongest available team, even changing formation to a back five to counter Toronto's attacking threat. And in bringing on Jurgen Damm, Enner Valencia and Ismael Sosa in the second half, the Tigres coach was looking to refine his counter-attacking options against a team behind and chasing the game.
The Brazilian was happy with how his side played and praised the concept of the Campeones Cup but hinted that it needs refining.
"I think for being the first edition it was very good," stated Ferretti in a news conference after the game. "I don't know if the next one will be here in Canada, the United States or if they'll do it in Mexico.
"They have to analyze the situation and I think the next one will be a lot better. Naturally, I don't have the capacity to say in what we have to improve, but I think we have directors in MLS as well as Mexico with the ability to make the next edition a lot better. And hopefully we'll be in it again."
Tigres fans -- known for traveling in numbers -- didn't come en masse, but their presence was felt, and heard, in BMO Field. Considering the difficulties of getting from Monterrey to Toronto, that was pleasantly surprising but you couldn't help feeling that if this game had been in an area with a larger Liga MX fanbase, the atmosphere would've benefitted.
Damm -- the only Tigres player to talk after the game -- said his side is hungry for more games against MLS opposition and even made a suggestion that the concept could be extended to a cup competition like the one that had previously been proposed, but hasn't come to fruition.
"I think what they are doing in bringing together Liga MX and MLS is very interesting and hopefully the project keeps growing because all of us would like to play against Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] ... and all the stars there are in MLS," said Damm after the game. "It'd be good to bring us together and make a tournament."
As first attempts go, Wednesday was a positive start under testing circumstances, given the distance between the places and both teams' domestic situations -- Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup)