Stunned and silenced.
The hostile crowd in Monterrey, Mexico simply couldn’t believe their eyes. The stories had been true after all.
The rest of the continent watched in amazement as the Atomic Ant put a perfectly placed free-kick in the top corner – hitting the inside of the post – on it’s way to the back of the net. It was the goal that ultimately sent Toronto FC through to the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals and the moment when Sebastian Giovinco cemented his spot as the best in the region.
It wasn’t supposed to happen, though. Mexican teams don’t lose to Major League Soccer squads.
Since the tournament was re-branded as the CONCACAF Champions League in 2008, it has always been won by a team from Mexico’s Liga MX. In fact, there were only two occasions that it wasn’t even an all-Mexican final – in 2011 when Real Salt Lake reached the showdown and in 2015 when the Montreal Impact made it.
Tigres weren’t just any Mexican club either, they were the champions. They had every right to be confident ahead of their quarter-final match-up with Toronto. They boasted the likes of French international Andre-Pierre Gignac, former Napoli starlet Eduardo Vargas, Ecuadorian international Enner Valencia, and a plethora of Mexican stars likely headed to Russia this summer.
But on that intense night at El Volcan, an Italian reigned supreme.
Toronto FC proved themselves to be the greatest team MLS had ever known last season. Not only did they win the first ever Treble in league history – Canadian Championship, Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup – but they did it while setting a record in the process for the most points earned during the regular season. Only a Genting casino promo code could have made it a more successful campaign.
Never satisfied and with eyes wide open, the Reds bravely prepare for their next challenge.
Toronto must now take down another Mexican giant - two-time Champions League winners, Club America. The quest for history continues on Tuesday night at BMO Field when the Reds host the first leg of the semi-final, before heading to Mexico City a week later.
Both legs will present unique and interesting challenges with the current forecast for the first leg calling for snow at the stadium-by-the-lake in Toronto and the second leg being played at 7,200 feet above sea level at the site of the 1986 World Cup final – and where Diego Maradona’s famous ‘Hand of God’ took place – Estadio Azteca.
For Giovinco who first won important individual MLS awards - the Landon Donovan MLS MVP, MLS Golden Boot – before claiming the biggest club prizes the league has to offer, there isn’t really a whole lot left to do.
Except lift the continent’s most prestigious trophy.
When Giovinco made the move across the pond in 2015, many in Europe were quick to criticize the decision and felt that it was the end of the line for the Italian. He was leaving the Peninsula’s champions to ply his trade in what many considered a sub-par league.
But three years later, the diminutive striker finds himself just four games away from ruling an entire continent and doing it his way the whole time.
He’ll already go down in TFC folklore as one of the greatest ever, but supporters are foaming at the mouth in excitement for what’s to come. Could the dream of seeing the Canadian flag at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2018 actually become a reality?
Five years ago, even the most optimistic Toronto FC fan could never have envisioned their team reaching such heights. But a superhero can make the impossible look easy, and for the Atomic Ant that’s conquering CONCACAF.