Concacaf Champions League: Cruz Azul, Union shine

Cruz Azul defender Pablo Aguilar (center) had a goal and an assist, while Brayan Angulo (left) scored twice. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images)
Cruz Azul defender Pablo Aguilar (center) had a goal and an assist, while Brayan Angulo (left) scored twice. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /
Concacaf Champions League Union/Azul
Kacper Przybylko (center) recorded a brace and an assist to lead the Philadelphia Union to an easy 3-0 win over Atlanta United. (Photo by EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP via Getty Images) /

Cruz Azul and Philadelphia Union snagged key road wins in Concacaf Champions League first-leg quarterfinals match-ups Tuesday night. The Cementeros coasted past host Toronto FC by a 3-1 score-line, while the visiting Union manhandled Atlanta United 3-0.

Brayan Angulo scored twice for Cruz Azul and defender Pablo Aguilar added an insurance goal with a header just before the hour mark.

The Cementeros demonstrated why they are the top defense in Liga MX, holding Toronto to 2 shots on goal while blocking a number of other scoring opportunities with timely tackles.

Angulo got the Liga MX leaders off to a quick start, curling in a shot from just inside the left top corner of penalty box only 3 minutes into the match. The Canadian team equalized at the 20-minutes mark when Jonathan Osorio fired home a loose ball from point-blank range but the Cruz Azul’s Ecuadorian striker restored the Cementeros’ lead off a corner kick in minute 34.

Cruz Azul restores Liga MX pride on Concacaf stage

Toronto had reached the quarterfinals after stunning reigning Liga MX champions León in the Round of 16, eliminating the Esmeraldas by virtue of a 2-1 second-leg win that came before the MLS season had even kicked off.

But they would not enjoy the same fortune on this night, losing to the Cementeros for the first time in four all-time meetings. Tuesday’s game was played in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium due to the covid-19 travel restrictions between the United States and Canada.

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“La Máquina” clamped down on the hosts, pressing all over the pitch and forcing Toronto into hurried passes. Luis Romo, Rafa Baca and Walter Montoya harried Toronto’s midfielders while Juan Escobar, Aguilar and Adrián Aldrete patrolled the defensive third with aplomb.

Toronto’s lone goal came about as a result of great effort by left back Justin Morrow. Cruz Azul right back Ignacio Rivero made a “business decision” and pulled up short as Morrow charged hard for a loose ball, poked it ahead, then zipped a low cross into the box. Osorio was the beneficiary of Morrow’s hustle.

Two minutes later, Escobar appeared to put Cruz Azul back in front but his spectacular headed goal (off an Angulo pass) was annulled as the Paraguayan defender was ruled offside.

The Cementeros finally moved back in front from a set piece. Aguilar drifted out top on a corner kick and recentered Orbelín Pineda’s corner kick toward the back post where Angulo trapped the pass while holding off his marker, then thumped it home 3 feet.

While Toronto captain Michael Bradley sought to settle his team and find holes in the Cruz Azul defense, the hosts steadily wilted under the constant pressure. The Cementeros exhibited tactical discipline and impressive stamina.

Cruz Azul outshot Toronto 22-5 and the hosts were lucky not to concede another goal late on as Santiago Giménez clanged a header off the post.

Atlanta United 0, Philadelphia Union 3

Kacper Przybylko starred in the opener on the night, scoring two second-half goals and assisting on the final goal for the visitors. United dominated possession (66%) and managed 16 shots in all, but Philly keeper Andre Blake was up to the task, recording 7 saves.

The Union is playing in its first-ever Concacaf Champions League tournament and has yet to be scored upon, routing Costa Rica’s Saprissa 5-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16. Tuesday night’s game was played in front of 17,533 fans at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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If Cruz Azul and the Union protect their respective 3-goal leads on their home grounds, they will meet in the semifinals when Concacaf Champions League play resumes in August.