Toronto FC head coach Chris Armas, right, calls out instructions during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, April 24, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Alligator crashes Toronto FC practice in Florida ahead of matchup with Cruz Azul

Soccer team about to tangle with one of Mexico’s most storied sides

Not that they needed a reminder that they’re a long way from home, but Toronto FC players had an alligator crash their practice in Florida on Monday.

“All I can tell you is this — there was an alligator, a massive alligator,” Toronto coach Chris Armas said. “And my players are running towards the alligator as I went the other way. Listen we talk about fearless and aggressive round here, but I thought we would not think about that at that moment.

“It’s maybe par for the course here in Florida, when you’re by the water, but I think it was cool for the guys to see really up-close and personal. It was kind of a cool way to start training.”

RELATED: Youngest member of Olympic team enjoying first taste of Canada program

RELATED: Vancouver Whitecaps to start season in Utah due to border restrictions

On Monday, the club posted a photo of striker Jozy Altidore observing the alligator from a safe distance as it wandered past someone in a nearby golf cart.

TFC, which is based out of Orlando due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, will welcome a different kind of foe Tuesday when Mexico’s Cruz Azul comes to visit in the first leg of their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.

The game is to be held behind closed doors at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, home to the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The second leg is scheduled for May 4 at Mexico City’s historic Azteca Stadium.

Cruz Azul (13-2-1) tops the Liga MX standings and is coming off a 3-2 win Saturday over Atletico San Luis. After losing the first two games of the season by 1-0 scores, it has gone unbeaten in 16 games (14-0-2) in all competitions.

“They’ve been hard to beat,” said Armas. “They’ve been on quite a run. They’re a powerful team. They’re a team that plays very direct, which makes it very difficult.

“We do know it will be about field position — and understanding where they want to play the game and how they get there. So easier said than done but we think we have a good understanding of what we’ll be up against. It’s really about us and executing now.”

Toronto, in contrast, has garnered just one point from its first two games of the MLS regular season, losing 4-2 to CF Montreal and tying Vancouver 2-2.

Toronto dispatched Mexico’s Club Leon 3-2 on aggregate in the round of 16 of CONCACAF’s flagship club competition, tying 1-1 in Leon and then winning 2-1 in Florida despite an injury-riddled roster.

Cruz Azul downed Arcahaie FC 8-0 on aggregate in its round-of-16 tie, bouncing back from a scoreless first leg to thump the Haitian side in the rematch at Azteca. Seven different Cruz Azul players scored against Arcahaie, which had beaten CPL champion Forge FC in the CONCACAF League feeder competition.

Toronto will face the Mexican side without Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, who remains sidelined with a right thigh issue.

“Not quite there,” Armas said of the designated player, who was due to undergo some imaging Monday.

The good news is French centre back Chris Mavinga is back training after a calf issue that has kept him out of action to date. Armas said the club would be prudent in not rushing him back, however.

Toronto’s Michael Bradley, Mark Delgado and Ralph Priso go into the match on yellow cards, meaning they will miss the second leg if they get another.

Also Monday, Toronto confirmed the signing of Venezuelan winger Yeferson Soteldo as its third designated player.

Founded in 1927, Cruz Azul has won the CONCACAF Champions League six times — most recently in 2014 — and finished runner-up twice. It has a loyal following with 1.8 million followers on Twitter and 753,000 on Instagram (compared to 411,500 and 230,000 for TFC).

CRUZ AZUL at TORONTO FC

At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Kickoff is 10 p.m. ET.

CRUZ AZUL HISTORY: The Mexican side is 6-4-1 against MLS opposition in Champions League play. But its first ever defeat against MLS opposition was a 2-1 loss in Toronto in the 2010-11 group stage. The teams subsequently tied 0-0 in Mexico City. In 2020, it lost 2-1 to Los Angeles FC in a single-game quarterfinal.

TFC HISTORY: Toronto is 5-7-5 against Mexican opposition in the Champions League. In 2018, Toronto ousted both Tigres UANL and Club America before falling to Chivas Guadalajara in the final on a penalty shootout.

—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Burns Lake local Wren Gilgan, captured this Bear family after their winter snooze in the woods near the community. (Wren Gilgan photo/Lakes District News)
Bear-attractant management, a province-wide priority

Black bears awake from winter slumber

LDSS students working on creating bike racks during the metals class. (Blaine Hastings photo/Lakes District News)
LDSS students building bike racks

The Lakes District Secondary School’s (LDSS) metal class taught by Blaine Hastings… Continue reading

Vaccine. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Register on Get Vaccinated site for second dose

Health officials urging everyone, including those with first dose to register

Boil water advisory. (File photo)
Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s long-term boil water advisory lifted

The province has no long-term water advisories in place

The Lakes District Fall fair has been cancelled second time in a row. (Lakes District News file photo)
Here’s why the Lakes District Fall Fair was cancelled

The association hoping to hold the fair in 2022

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Dr. Steve Beerman, of Nanaimo, shows off his Dr. David Bishop Gold Medal, awarded for distinguished medical service. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Former UFV Cascades wrestling coach Arjan Singh Bhullar is now the ONE heavyweight champion after defeating Brandon Vera via TKO in round two on Saturday in Singapore. (ONE Championship)
Former UFV wrestling coach wins MMA championship

Arjan Singh Bhullar captures ONE heavyweight title, first Indian origin fighter to achieve honour

Astra Zeneca vaccine waits for injection in a Feb. 3, 2021 file photo. A Langley man has become the second B.C. resident to suffer a blood clot following an injection. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
B.C. man required emergency surgery after AstraZeneca vaccination

Shaun Mulldoon suffered ‘massive blood clot’ after jab

Most Read