TFC comes up empty

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

The oranges of Puerto Rico were just too tough to peel for Toronto FC.

So the team went hungry in its first trip to the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round, unable to score at home last week or last night's 0-0 draw against the Islanders at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon.

Puerto Rico, with its precious road goal at BMO Field last week, heads into group stage of the CCL, likely against Mexican side Cruz Azul, merely the five-time champions of this event, definitely Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica, the 2008 finalists as well as defending MLS champion Columbus Crew.

For the second straight game, late sub Danny Dichio almost beat Isles' goalie Bill Gaudette, blasting a shot off the post from close range. But trying to play catchup in close to 30C, Toronto was either too cautious or bull headed, needing a goal to stay alive and two to win. Toronto had 20 shots, 10 on goal.

The bigger Islanders, with size in their backfield in particular, were as difficult to penetrate as last week and all 10 stayed in Gaudette's shadow in the late stages, though Kendall Jagdeosingh's red card with five minutes to play made it a little dicey.

Toronto needed to take the ball to the home team right away, but didn't until the second half. As he did last week, USL goalie of the year Gaudette was equal to any of the few Reds' challenges that were on goal. Earning his seventh straight clean sheet, he opened the second half with a leaping tip save on Amado Guevara and Pablo Vitti after two thunderous free kicks from Ali Gerba missed in the first.

A half-full crowd at this natural grass stadium that holds about 12,000 celebrated its team re-launching another potentially long CCL run after making last year's semifinals.

A sub-plot to the game was Toronto coach Chris Cummins declining to start striker Chad Barrett into his 4-3-4 set with the return of injured Guevara. Cummins didn't hide his anger at Barrett for getting himself ejected from a Saturday MLS game in New England that forced Toronto to hang on for a point with 10 men. Barrett replaced midfielder Sam Cronin in the 56th minute as he, Dichio and O'Brian White were sent out in an all-out attempt to score.

Guevara picked up a yellow card early last night for bringing down Jonathan Steele from behind.


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