Toluca seeks place in CONCACAF Champions League final with result against LD Alajuelense
Toluca nearly exited the CONCACAF Champions League at the quarterfinal stage by taking its opponent too lightly. Red Devils boss José Cardozo insists his side will not make the same mistake against LD Alaujelense tonight.
Paulo da Silva handed Toluca a precious away goal a week ago in Alajuela to provide a modest cushion ahead of the decisive second leg at Estadio Nemesio Diez tonight (8:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 2). The first-leg victory against the Costa Ricans offers the sort of advantage the Red Devils should not squander, but Cardozo said his players understand they must apply themselves appropriately to book a place in the final against either Club Tijuana or Cruz Azul.
"We are already prepared," Cardozo told reporters. "Since the end of the game there, we have talked to the players and told them we need to take this match quite seriously. We have an advantage over our rival because we are winning 1-0, which is important. We have to be intelligent in how we manage the game. We have to manage the lead we have, but, of course, we have to go out at home and try to get another goal to give us the peace of mind and make it easier to control the game."
Cardozo must ponder his lineup options carefully after opting for yet another blended starting XI for the first-leg triumph. Mexican internationals Isaac Brizuela, Miguel Ponce and Alfredo Talavera could return to the squad after missing out a week ago due to the friendly against the United States, but they may not feature from the outset. Cardozo often leaves some of his first-choice players on the bench – influential striker Pablo Velázquez, most notably – in this competition to keep them fresh for Liga MX commitments.
At this stage of the proceedings, Toluca can hardly afford to take chances. The narrow escape against San Jose last month offers a cautionary tale worth heeding. And Alajuelense – holders of two victories over Club América during the group stage, including one at Estadio Azteca – believes it can rely on its defensive strength and its work on the break to overturn the current deficit.
“The team continues to be motivated,” Alajuelense goalkeeper Alfonso Quesada told CONCACAF.com after the first leg. “The only thing lacking was a goal. We know that we had chances. They didn’t fall, but we haven’t lost hope. We have objectives and we want to fulfill them and that can be done. We know that we have the confidence to be able to get a result there.”
Alajuelense spurned several opportunities – including a missed spot kick by Jonathan McDonald – to make this task a bit more palatable, but the Costa Ricans can point to their unbeaten record away from home in this tournament for confidence heading into this second leg. It is not beyond Alajuelense’s capability to snatch a third consecutive road victory. Toluca must summon the necessary performance to maintain its control over the tie and secure its first trip to the final in the Champions League era.
"I think we have to play our best game," Toluca goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera told reporters. "We must stay focused, especially because we know a goal is worth a lot at this point. We overlooked it (in the quarterfinal against San Jose) and we do not want to go through the same thing again."