TFC's next big step

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:03 PM ET

The time is now for Toronto FC to take its next step as a franchise.

Tuesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League opener against Honduran side Motagua represents opportunity for an organization that, outside of box office success, really has not accomplished much — aside from a couple of Canadian championships against weaker competition — since first taking the pitch back in 2007

Making the MLS playoffs for the first time is the main goal for the 2010 campaign, but making a dent in the Champions League is also a noble outcome to strive for, especially since TFC bombed out in the preliminary round a year ago against the uninspiring Puerto Rico Islanders.

If the Montreal Impact can make it through, as it did in 2008, the Reds certainly should be able to as well. The road will be extremely difficult after that with MLS champion Real Salt Lake, Panama’s Arabe Unido and likely Mexico’s Cruz Azul lurking in the next round, but that’s a problem for a later day.

What is on the docket now is a BMO meeting with old friend turned foe Amado Guevara and Motagua.

Motagua will not be a pushover, four of its members made Honduras’ World Cup squad and overall, the roster has far more international experience than TFC’s lineup.

Former Spanish international Mista and Canadian veterans Julian de Guzman and Dwayne De Rosario will be leaned on heavily by their teammates. They must use all of the experience they have gained through playing in high-profile games and leagues (Mista and de Guzman are former members of La Liga’s Deportivo de la Coruna and Mista helped Valencia win the 2004 UEFA Cup).

De Guzman understands what is at stake.

“This is a huge tournament,” he said following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with FC Dallas.

“It’s something TFC has been fighting for. Two-legged matches are very tricky. We need to not allow a goal at home and get (as many as possible).

“Going to Honduras (next week) is going to be a very tough time.”

TFC head coach Preki has long talked of the importance of a good showing against CONCACAF’s best and said his side will be ready, having seen plenty of tape.

Management also knows an awful lot about Guevara, the mercurial scorer and former MLS MVP who is equally as likely to score a couple of goals as he is to blow his top.

Nevertheless, he will have to be marked closely.

Having snatched draws or defeat from the hands of victory far too often in recent weeks, TFC does not come in bloated with confidence. But all that will have to be forgotten quickly or this tournament will be over for the Reds very quickly.

Bearing down on set plays, a huge problem for the team all season, and finally ending an offensive slump that has stretched back to May will be major factors for TFC. Failure to improve in those areas will almost certainly equal an early exit. Winning in Honduras will be an immense challenge. One this organization has not yet shown it can meet.

But a win Tuesday would be a significant move forward in the right direction.

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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