Colorado Rapids

Preview | Rapids go head to head with Liga MX side Toluca

A Round-of-32 spot in the inaugural edition of Leagues Cup is on the line as the Colorado Rapids face off against Mexican side Deportivo Toluca FC on Monday, July 31, at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park (7:30 p.m. MT; Apple TV – Free, Altitude Sports Radio 92.5 FM).

Colorado hosts Toluca following a 2-1 loss on the road on Sunday against Nashville SC in their opening League Cup 2023 group stage match. The Rapids controlled much of the first half, but the game shifted after Hany Mukhtar, the reigning Landon Donovan MVP Award winner, subbed into the game and promptly scored the opening goal. Less than 10 minutes later, forward Jacob Shaffelburg added a second goal for Nashville. New Rapids defender Andrew Gutman made a late surge into the box before firing a shot that Kévin Cabral deflected into the goal in the 80th minute to cut the deficit in half, but the team was ultimately unable to find an equalizer. Despite not being able to complete their comeback attempt, the Rapids’ goal may prove pivotal in Monday’s match based on qualification scenarios.

Prior to last Sunday’s loss, the Rapids enjoyed a three-game unbeaten stretch in league play, which included a scoreless draw against Houston Dynamo FC in their last MLS match on July 15. Although they have struggled offensively in the absence of club captain Jack Price (season-ending Achilles injury) and 2022 top scorer Diego Rubio (has not played since May 13 due to various injuries), the Rapids have shown solidity on the defensive end in recent weeks. Since the start of June, the Rapids have shutout four of their last seven opponents, while their 30 goals against in 2023 are tied for fifth fewest in the Western Conference. Goalkeeper William Yarbrough recorded his seventh clean sheet of the year against Houston, which is currently tied for fifth-most in MLS.

Toluca arrive in Colorado following a thrilling 4-3 victory over Nashville SC in the club’s opening Leagues Cup match on Thursday. Walker Zimmerman put Nashville up early, heading in a third-minute corner kick, before Toluca equalized through midfielder Marcel Ruíz. The Tennessee side would regain the lead via a Fafa Picault counterattack in the 37th minute, but before the sides entered halftime, Toluca found two goals—including a PK from Brazilian goalkeeper Tiago Volpi—to take a lead they would not relinquish.

Based in Toluca de Lerdo in the State of Mexico, Toluca is one of Mexico’s most successful clubs, winning 10 Liga MX titles since joining the country’s top flight in 1950; only heavyweights Club América and C.D. Guadalajara (Chivas) have won more championships. The club is also one of three Liga MX teams to have never been relegated after their debut in the country’s first division. However, their most recent league title came in 2010, the same year that the Rapids won their first MLS Cup. Toluca also has two Concacaf Champions Cups (formerly the Concacaf Champions League) titles to its name, while finishing as runners-up on three other occasions.

Despite having never played against one another, Monday’s match will see familiar faces for both clubs. After managing Club León from 2018-2020, Toluca head coach Ignacio Ambriz will face off against one of his former players in two-time Liga MX champion William Yarbrough. Toluca winger Jean Meneses, defenders Andrés Mosquera, Fernando Navarro and Mauricio Isaís all played with Yarbrough during his time with León. Before getting acquired by the Rapids, Yarbrough won the Liga MX Apertura tournament with León in 2013, breaking a 20-year first division title drought for the Mexican club. The following season, Yarbrough helped the club to a Clausura title as well. Against Toluca, Yarbrough will face his first Liga MX club in a non-friendly match since joining Colorado.

Rapids forward Diego Rubio and Toluca defender Valber Huerta both started for the Chile U-20 National Team in a 2012 friendly. For the Chilean senior team, Meneses and midfielder Claudio Baeza played alongside Rubio in a national team friendly in 2019.  Baeza and Rubio later appeared in four other international friendlies together for Chile in the same season.

Additionally, Rapids defender Andrew Gutman faced Toluca earlier this season. In a preseason friendly, Gutman started and played the first 45 minutes of Atlanta United FC’s match against the Liga MX side. He was subbed off in the second half but helped the club build an early 2-0 advantage in the first half before the Mexican side found an answer. 

Qualification Scenarios

Following Toluca’s win over Nashville on Thursday night, the Rapids have three different pathways to qualify for the Leagues Cup knockout stage heading into Monday’s encounter with Los Diablos Rojos:

  • Win by 2+ goals or…
  • Score at least five goals in a one-goal margin win (e.g., 5-4, 6-5, 7-6, etc.) or…
  • Win 4-3 and maintain a better Fair Play score than Nashville

In order of priority, the tiebreakers in place if all three teams in the group are tied in points—which would be the case in the event of a Rapids win on Monday—are head-to-head results, goal differential, most goals scored, least goals conceded, Fair Play points and then a random drawing if the teams are still tied. Given that, Colorado would need to beat Toluca by two or more goals to advance, which would also place the Rapids as top of the group due to goal differential. The club would also advance if they win by a single-goal margin, but only scoring at least five goals; a 4-3 victory over the Liga MX side could potentially suffice, but would require Colorado to maintain a better Fair Play score than Nashville. 

Launching for the first time this year, Leagues Cup 2023 is an official, World Cup-style tournament between all 47 teams from Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX. Both leagues will suspend play from July 16 through August 19 for League Cup play, which kicked off on Friday, July 21. The Leagues Cup winner will earn an automatic spot in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup Round of 16, while the second and third place clubs will also earn qualification to the intercontinental tournament.