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Giovinco free kick highlights Toronto’s CCL semi-clinching draw (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco forced an own goal and netted a free kick as Toronto FC advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals despite a 3-2 second leg loss to UANL Tigres on Tuesday in Mexico.

Tigres scored a penalty in stoppage time, but the pair of away goals pushed TFC through on a 4-4 aggregate score line.

TFC will play Club America unless Tauro makes amends for a 4-0 deficit after one leg come Wednesday evening.

André-Pierre Gignac scored twice, one the penalty, and Eduardo Vargas also scored for Tigres.

[ MORE: Red Bulls advance past Xolos ]

The heady times started early for Toronto FC, which needed big plays from defender Chris Mavinga and goalkeeper Alex Bono in the first half.

Life got a lot harder for Tigres when Sebastian Giovinco forced an own goal in the 64th minute, though Vargas scored his second goal of the tie to give the hosts hope.

But that so-and-so Giovinco did what he does with his 73rd minute free throw free kick to lift TFC to a two-goal lead with a pair of away goals.

Gignac leveled the tie in the 84th, and then converted a penalty off a Gregory van der Wiel handball in stoppage time, but it was too little, too late for the Liga MX side.

Toronto FC 2-1 Tigres: Reds punch back

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Jonathan Osorio and Jozy Altidore scored second half goals as Toronto FC came back to top UANL Tigres 2-1 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal at BMO Field on Wednesday.

Eduardo Vargas gave UANL Tigres a 1-0 lead, but the Liga MX side was behind the 8-ball the rest of the night.

The second leg is at 11 p.m. ET Tuesday at the Estadio Universitario.

[ MORE: USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup ]

Chances were at a premium in the first half, and the match deservedly went to halftime at nil-nil.

Tigres swapped Enner Valencia for Andre-Pierre Gignac at hafltime, giving the Reds a tactical challenge in adjusting to two very different strikers.

A moment after Jozy Altidore was stymied by Jose Francisco Torres, the big TFC striker was livid with the referee’s decision to not award him a 49th minute penalty.

Vargas beat Alex Bono in the 53rd minute, the Chilean scoring in yet another big spot.

TFC should’ve been level two minutes later, but Osorio opted for using the outside of his right foot over the natural path of Altidore’s cross to his left. The shot zipped over the goal.

Giovinco won a free kick dribbling through traffic in the 57th minute, but couldn’t get his shot to dip under the bar.

Altidore put the Reds ahead when Marky Delgado one-touched the big striker in on goal, and Altidore slid the ball home to make it 1-1.

Gignac then nearly beat Bono with a similar volley to Vargas’ goal, but the ball bounded wide of the far post.

The tide had swung in Toronto’s favor, and Giovinco won another free kick — perhaps with embellishment — near the chalk of the 18. The wall served its purpose.

Michael Bradley was at his very best in producing what could’ve easily been a go-ahead goal, swooping in front of a Tigres pass and then making a nifty 1v1 move before delivering a world-class cross that Altidore bungled on the six.

Osorio got the winner in the 89th minute, backheeling Giovinco’s cross into the Tigres goal.

Chris Mavinga made an outstanding challenge to stop Ismael Sosa late.

Here’s the winner:

CONCACAF Champions League preview: Eyeing MLS chances

Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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The CONCACAF Champions League’s quarterfinals kick off late Tuesday evening, and a trio of Major League Soccer teams are two rounds from playing for a spot in the Club World Cup.

[ MORE: Astori’s shirt retired by two clubs ]

That tournament in the United Arab Emirates remains nine months away for now, where the CCL winner will join the winners of the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, the Asian Champions League, African Champions League, Oceania Champions League, and the winners of the UAE’s top flight.

MLS placed two semifinalists last season, though both Vancouver and FC Dallas failed to cement a spot in the final. Seven of the nine CCL-era tournaments have been all-Mexican, excepting Real Salt Lake’s loss in 2011 and Montreal’s loss in 2015.

Back to the present: One tie does not include an MLS side thanks to FC Dallas’ poor performance against Cinderella side Tauro of Panama. Tauro plays Club America beginning Tuesday at Estadio Azteca.

Of the three MLS sides left, who has the best chance of coming out on top? You be the judge (but it’s probably TFC).

Toronto FC

Opponent: UANL Tigres (4th place, Liga MX)

First leg: Wednesday in Toronto
Second leg: March 13 in San Nicolás

Watch out for… a pair of names who made their mark in Europe; Enner Valencia and Andre-Pierre Gignac have combined for 29 goals to lead Tigres’ attack. You’ll also remember longtime USMNT midfielder Jose Francisco Torres, but — again — TFC’s hopes are pinned to its back line keeping a handle on a pair of strong finishers (and dangerous, experienced Eduardo Vargas.


Seattle Sounders

Opponent: Chivas Guadalajara (16th place, Liga MX)

First leg: Wednesday in Seattle
Second leg: March 14 in Guadalajara

Watch out for… Don’t be misled by Guadalajara’s table status; The Mexican powers have drawn their last four matches. Their leading scorer is Alan Pulido, and Mexican national team star defender Oswaldo Alanis is at the back with Carlos Salcido. Also in the mix is a familiar name: hyped 21-year-old Orbelin Pineda.


New York Red Bulls

Opponent: Club Tijuana (6th place, Liga MX)

First leg: 10 p.m. ET Tuesday in Tijuana
Second leg: March 13 in Harrison

Watch out for… a very American roster, relative to the rest of the league. The newcomer is forward Rubio Rubin, who earned his first start on Feb. 25 and came off the bench for 32 minutes a week later. Alejandro Guido gets minutes mainly off the bench. Michael Orozco hasn’t been playing much, nor has young Fernando Arce, Jr.

CONMEBOL wrap: All to play for as Argentina held again, Chile wins

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CONMEBOL qualifying is, as the kids say, LIT.

Thursday’s results mean that all will be decided on Tuesday, with still only Brazil having secured qualification already. Chile jumped into a qualifying spot – barely – while another disappointing performance by Argentina leaves Jorge Sampaoli and company on the outside looking up to qualification with one match to go.

Yes, you read that correctly. Your eyes are not deceiving you. Argentina could very realistically miss the World Cup.

Have a look at the results, plus a look at Tuesday:

Argentina 0-0 Peru

Lionel Messi and nobody else.

The Barcelona star was brilliant again for his country, but had no help as Argentina was stymied at home yet again, leaving them in an elimination spot with just one match to play. Messi himself hit the post, but he was still his stunning self for much of the game. Unfortunately, Angel Di Maria was horrid and yanked at halftime, Darío Benedetto andLucas Biglia spurned a number of chances, and Sampaoli decided against even bringing Paulo Dybala off the bench to help the attack.

The result means Argentina – already in the playoff position coming into tonight – was leap-frogged by Chile and currently sit outside a qualifying position of any kind. They have not scored a World Cup qualifying goal from open play in five whole matches, the last of which came almost a full year ago in last November.

Chile 2-1 Ecuador

It appeared Ecuador had equalized late, which would have been disastrous for Chile, but Alexis Sanchez saved the day with an 86th minute goal as Chile jumped into a qualifying spot thanks to the three points.

Arturo Vidal pick-pocketed an Ecuador defender after a slip, and he fed Felipe Gutiérrez in great shooting position. With space, Gutierrez ripped a shot that was saved by Maximo Banguera, but he parried it right in the path of Sanchez who scored easily into the open net.

Romario Ibarra Mina had equalized just two minutes earlier, cancelling out Eduardo Vargas‘s opener just 22 minutes in. A draw would have been a tough pill to swallow, leaving Chile below the qualifying line despite the failures elsewhere. Instead, the Sanchez goal allowed Chile to take advantage of the other slips, leaving his side in a great spot.

Colombia 1-2 Paraguay

Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina made a pair of critical errors late and Colombia slipped to late defeat at home against Paraguay to send the CONMEBOL standings into further disarray. Deralis Gonzalez sent in a cross from the right, and when Ospina came off his line to collect, he spilled the ball and was left sprawled on the ground as Antonio Sanabria pounced to score the winner two minutes into stoppage time.

Colombia had already squandered a lead just moments before. Radamel Falcao‘s chip had given them the lead in the 79th minute, but Oscar Cardozo equalized in the 89th minute thanks to the first of Ospina’s two errors. A deep set-piece from the midway line was sent into the box, and Ospina came out to punch but hardly got a touch and spilled to the ground. That allowed Cardozo to pounce, poking in while he laid on the ground.

The loss means Colombia remains in the muck, despite being still in a qualifying position. For Paraguay, the win is massive, pulling them within one of the playoff spot.

Venezuela 0-0 Uruguay

A point for Uruguay on the road is a positive, but with the logjam suddenly inches behind them, 0-0 feels like a disappointing result as they fail to break through at Venezuela. Both teams struggled to get shots on target as Venezuela remains bottom of the table.

Bolivia 0-0 Brazil

Brazil has already qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and they trotted out a mediocre lineup that couldn’t get past Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe who made a whopping 13 saves in the scoreless draw. Neymar started for Brazil and completed the full 90 minutes, but Philippe Coutinho was withdrawn after an hour and Alisson was deployed in goal. Bolivia has already been eliminated from contention.

CURRENT STANDINGS

Brazil  (Q)      38   +27
Uruguay         28   +10
Chile               26   +2
Colombia       26   +2
————————-
Peru                25    +1
————————-
Argentina       25   +1
Paraguay        24   -5
Ecuador (E)   20   -1
Bolivia (E)      14   -20
Venezuela (E)  9   -17

Picture

So here’s the deal: Argentina still controls its own destiny. Mostly. They need to win on the road at eliminated Ecuador, and they need to do so by more than Peru potentially wins at home against an equally desperate Colombia. That should see them at least into the playoff position, and could see them jump higher should Chile or Colombia falter.

Chile hits the road to take on Brazil, and while the hosts have already qualified, they likely won’t take the match lightly against a rival in a fixture that has found new heat in recent years.

Paraguay hosts Venezuela and could be primed to take advantage of a couple slips above them. Uruguay should be fine as they host Bolivia, as only true chaos could see them out.

Enner Valencia heads back to Liga MX; Gignac available?

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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Enner Valencia is returning to Liga MX, finding a new home at Tigres UANL.

West Ham United announced the sale for an undisclosed fee on Thursday, ending Valencia’s tenure in the Premier League with 11 goals in 75 appearances between the Irons and a loan to Everton. The Toffes had a buy option, but did not exercise it.

Valencia found his way to the PL after a terrific 2014 World Cup with Ecuador and a final season with Pachuca which saw him score 18 goals in 23 matches.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

However his international future has been tumultuous, including a wild child support story which saw him chased off the pitch by police during a CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier.

Valencia has 20 goals in 38 Ecuador caps, and joins a Tigres side with former USMNT midfielder Jose Francisco Torres, Chilean star Eduardo Vargas, and French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac.

The latter has been linked with the LA Galaxy, and the addition of Valencia — while not like for like — could boost the chances of an MLS arrival for Gignac.

Reports claimed the Galaxy headed down to Monterrey for a discussion regarding Gignac’s availability last week, and it’s not crazy to put two-and-two together.