TFC must keep winning at home

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:15 PM ET

If Toronto FC hopes to advance out of the CONCACAF Champions League's Group of Death, it needs to ensure that BMO Field remains a fortress.

Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Cruz Azul, would go from being the most important victory in the team’s four years of existence to moot if the Reds don’t take care of business in the other two home games they will have in Group A action.

This is the toughest group on paper. Here’s why:

Real Salt Lake was undefeated at home this season heading into Wednesday night’s game with Arabe Unido.

Cruz Azul didn’t lose at home during the 2009-10 CONCACAF Champions League.

Last season, Panamanian champs Arabe Unido went undefeated at home in the group stage, outscoring the opposition, ahem, 11-2.

Toronto FC’s only loss at home in 2010 came on penalties to Bolton Wanderers — a friendly.

These clubs have all made their stadiums places where the visitors go to die.

But, with success comes pressure. Sooner or later, someone is bound to lose at home; and that could be the difference between finishing in the top two and booking a place in the quarterfinals and crashing out of the competition.

Preki, TFC’s coach, admitted that holding serve against the biggest dog in the group was vital for his club. With three straight road games on tap in Champions League play — including next Tuesday’s tilt with Arabe Unido in Colon, Panama — the Reds needed to get points right out of the gate.

“Every game on the road is going to be difficult,” said Preki, admitting that a home loss would mean that “we can almost say goodbye to the competition.”

No one in TFC’s camp would ever come out and say this, but if the Reds were able to scrape even two points out of the upcoming three road tilts, it would put them in a commanding position in the group.

Cruz Azul will continue to be the wild card as the group progresses. It remains the favourite to take the group, even with the loss in the opener.

Cruz Azul is still powerful enough to get something on the road. But, as the group progresses, coach Enrique Meza may be forced to start his ‘A’ team in either Utah or Panama in order to steal some points. Toronto, which beat a Cruz Azul team that left six of its regulars out of the starting lineup, has a huge advantage by getting the home date out of the way against the team that has been to the last two CCL finals.

And, once Cruz Azul brought in star midfielder Gerardo Torrado — after it went down 2-0 to TFC — it was a different team. Whether he plays or not makes a massive difference. The fact that Cruz Azul was much improved in the second half wasn’t lost on Meza.

“If we would have had an earlier reaction (to TFC) then the result would have been different,” he said through a translator.

Maybe the most telling thing was the way Cruz Azul's players conducted themselves after the game. There were no scowls. Some stayed behind to sign autographs. Torrado complimented the dedicated fans.

The team knows that, for Tuesday, at least, it was not under the microscope. The Mexican newspapers were focused on Chivas Guadalajara, which vied to become the first team from the country to win the Copa Libertadores, the most prestigious title in Latin American soccer. Chivas faced Internacional of Brazil in the second leg of the final late Wednesday.

Meza said the loss left a “sour taste” with the team, but it didn’t look like it in the BMO Field tunnel.


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