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

Ken Rutherford, left, and Rick Lord of Port Alberni receive honours from the National Model Railroad Association—Pacific Northwest Region for 40 years of dedication to the preservation and presentation of railroad history. (PHOTO COURTESY PHYLLIS RUTHERFORD)
Model railroaders from Port Alberni honoured for rail preservation

Ken Rutherford and Rick Lord put on annual model railroad meet in Nanaimo for 35 years

Former Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ associate coach Brandon Shaw has been named head coach of the Coquitlam Express, also of the B.C. Hockey League. The announcement was made May 12, 2021. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)
BCHL’s Coquitlam Express hire new head coach

Brandon Shaw leaves Alberni Valley Bulldogs for bench boss job

The Alberni Golf Club is located on Cherry Creek Road. FILE PHOTO
ALBERNI GOLF: Men’s club tees up for Mother’s Day

Next Sunday, May 16 will be the Stableford competition

AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
School district to choose new name for AW Neill Elementary in Port Alberni

School will not be renamed after Winston Joseph, says board

Carol Brown from the Alberni District Fall Fair committee, works on the online feed for the 2020 virtual Fall Fair on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)
Alberni District Fall Fair wins national award for innovation

Long-running traditional Vancouver Island fair went virtual due to COVID-19

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Surrey RCMP is releasing sketches of a suspect in an “indecent act” at the Coyote Creek Elementary playground on April 30, 2021. Police said the suspect was clean-shaven “during some interactions” and on “other occasions had stubble outlining a goatee and mustache.” (Images: Surrey RCMP handout)
Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

These are just a handful of Vancouver Island’s missing person cases. Clockwise from top left: Lisa Marie Young, Lindsey Nicholls, Micheal Dunahee, Jesokah Adkens, Belinda Cameron and Emma Fillipoff. (File photos courtesy of family members and police departments)
Could Victoria skull fragment bring closure to an Island missing persons mystery?

Skeletal remains found in Greater Victoria have not yet been identified

Premier Mike Horgan received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Facebook/John Horgan)
More than 50% of people eligible in B.C. have received 1st vaccine dose

‘We’ve made extraordinary progress together over the past few weeks,’ says Premier Horgan

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu on May 8. (Black Press Media file photo)
Indigenous woman shot by police was holding a replica gun, says Ucluelet First Nation

Woman has been identified as a member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read