No place like home for TFC

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:15 PM ET

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

If Toronto FC wins the two-legged CONCACAF Champions League qualifier against CD Motagua, if it survives the second leg next week in a country which just passed the one-year anniversary of the ouster of former president Manuel Zelaya, the Reds would be placed in what looks to be the toughest of the four groups.

Group A features Real Salt Lake, the defending MLS champion which hasn’t lost a home game all season long, and Panamanian powerhouse Arabe Unido.

Cruz Azul, which lost in the CONCACAF Champions League final in 2009 and 2010, is a sure thing to qualify into the group.

Cruz Azul is led by Mexican national team mainstay Gerardo Torrado and Alejandro Vela, the brother of Mexican national teamer and Arsenal striker Carlos Vela.

Gulp.

So, having to survive Honduras is just a small first step for the Reds.

Some small step.

Whether it be club football or national-team soccer, trips to Central America are fraught with peril, from stands filled with some of the most aggressive fans you’ll find anywhere in the world, to stadiums which are so old and beat up that there’s no way they’d be allowed for an MLS team to use.

So, that’s why Toronto FC needs to ensure that it takes full advantage of its home leg of its CONCACAF Champions League qualifier Tuesday night against former Red Amado Guevara and his CD Motagua mates. It can’t allow the Hondurans to snatch a precious road goal.

Because, when the Reds head to Honduras next week for the return leg, that game needs to be about survival, not having to go down to hostile territory and needing to actually win the second game.

“It’s another world,” said Toronto FC midfielder Julian de Guzman, a veteran of many trips to Central America with the national team.

“You can expect a lot of things you don’t see here, maybe things BMO won’t allow.”

According to a Government of Canada advisory updated in mid-July, “A large percentage of the (Honduran) population is armed.”

There have also been stories of fans in Central America filling bags with urine and hurling them at the opposing team.

It makes Philadelphia seem warm and cuddly.

But it needs to be said that the 45,000 Hondurans who gathered to watch their team face the United States right after the Zelaya coup were welcoming and respectful.

For the uninitiated, in international competition, if the score is tied after two legs, road goals count double. So, if a team wins 3-1 on the road but loses 2-0 at home, it takes the series.

But, there is a quirk in the CONCACAF rules; if extra time is needed, there is no bonus for road goals scored.

Guevara, who scored nine goals as a Red and was MLS MVP in 2004 with the MetroStars, will lead a Motagua team that also features striker Georgie Welcome, who featured in the World Cup with the Honduran national team. On paper, this is a much better side than the Puerto Rico Islanders team that beat TFC at this stage last season.

“The team goes in with the idea that we need secure the three points against Toronto,” Welcome was quoted in Spanish on Motagua’s website. “It is certain that Toronto has a good team, but we also have ours and we go to win or at least to tie.”

The one big advantage TFC has is that Motagua, which lost the Honduran championship to rival Olimpia in 2010, doesn’t begin its 2010-11 season until Aug. 8; so the Reds are facing a team very much in its pre-season.


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