TFC's battle of egos over

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

With the battle of egos over, Preki and Mista both boarded the plane to Panama for Toronto FC’s CONCACAF Champions League game Tuesday at Arabe Unido.

Don’t kid yourself. Seeds of doubt were planted by the head coach suggesting post-game Saturday his Spanish striker would not make the trip to Panama due to “health issues.”

Preki’s post-game fabricated reasoning caught TFC brass off-guard, with the club very well knowing it was a spat with Mista that left the Spanish striker in a reported “fit” and the player not returning to the team bench after halftime.

There was no way TFC officials would let this player-versus-coach disagreement linger into the coming days. Post-game, TFC staffers were quick to mend fences, with the club insistent Preki not leave Mista out of the travelling TFC side.

So expect the public spin to be along the lines that Mista has recovered from whatever ailed him. With the team in Panama and Canadian media outlets not making the trip to the nether-regions of Central America, the story will be buried.

Yet sources continue to say, “something was up” between the two egos and the situation was indeed tumultuous. With the two men left seemingly no choice but to work with one another, it will be compelling to see how the relationship grows, or deteriorates further as the season wears on.

Bottom line, the club is bigger than Mista or Preki, despite what certain individuals may believe. And getting points from Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League match is of the utmost priority.

Points in road games are tough to come by in this tournament. But TFC has little choice but to push for maximum points in Panama.

Toronto’s other competition in Group A is of top-notch quality. Real Salt Lake may be the best team in CONCACAF and will be difficult to gain points against, home or away.

And an ominous return match to Mexico City against Cruz Azul sizes up to be a challenge of epic proportions. So the maximum six points against Arabe Unido is a must.

Perhaps some outward aggression is exactly what Mista needs to clear his mind and re-endear himself to his hard-nosed head coach. Mista and Co., not only should expect a physical affair against the Panamanian opponent, but a dirty match.

Last week’s Arabe Unido vs. Real Salt Lake match in Salt Lake became a sham, an embarrassment to the game of soccer. Arabe Unido’s tactics were downright deplorable, taking cheap shots, diving, and play-acting whenever possible.

As my colleague Steven Sandor told me after watching the game: “I think Arabe Unido is the dirtiest team I’ve ever seen. Ever!”

That’s a bold statement coming from a guy who’s a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the history of the professional game. But Sandor’s absolutely right: The Panamanians made the game unwatchable.

Arabe Unido finished the game with nine players, and certainly one more player could have well been sent off. Canadian referee Paul Ward was having nothing of the visitors’ shoddy tactics, and did a commendable job trying to control a game featuring one team set on ruining the affair.

Unfortunately for TFC, similar negative, disgusting tactics work more effectively in matches in Central American countries.

A hostile environment and chaotic atmosphere doesn’t make the job easy for any match official. And cheats tend to get away with undermining the game and officials.

So expect a ton of diving, play-acting, and cheap shots throughout Tuesday’s match. It won’t be pretty, but that doesn’t necessarily put TFC at a disadvantage.

Toronto’s got some sand-paper as well. It may not kick and claw its way through a match like their Panamanian competition, but this team won’t physically be pushed around, either.

Arabe Unido does have some talent, but don’t expect an open, free-flowing game you saw last week at BMO Field. TFC’s victory over Cruz Azul featured a much different-looking Reds side, rising to the challenge of its quality Mexican opponent.

There was a lot more freelancing and offensive creativity from the team than typically displayed from a Preki-coached side.

With Mista seemingly in the doghouse, and forward Chad Barrett dealing with real health issues, hobbling Saturday after playing an ill-advised 28 minutes coming off a recent hamstring injury, it’s difficult to see TFC playing the same adventurous style.

Expect TFC to play an organized, defensive formation, content on using the counter-attack to pluck an away goal — in other words, a typical Preki-style game.

gareth.wheeler@suntv.canoe.ca


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