TFC playing for pride

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:00 PM ET

One more home game to go. How many will show, nobody knows. And what players will be playing is an even better question.

Toronto FC closes out its home schedule Tuesday night playing host to the Panamanian side Arabe Unido in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). Both teams have been eliminated from the competition heading into this, the last match of the group stage.

The teams sit third and fourth place in the four team group.

Even without something tangible to play for, expect a fiery and lively affair Tuesday, with revenge on the home side’s mind.

No Toronto FC supporter will soon forget the sham of the match the first time these teams met, Aug. 24th in Panama. Toronto lost 1-0 in a despicable display by the Panamanians and the match-officials alike. Making matters worse, the game was played on a horrendous carpet/turf surface, in front of 500 spectators, 70 kilometers away from Arabe Unido’s home stadium due to its home field not meeting CONCACAF standards.

To say Toronto FC struggled with the theatrics of its dive-happy opponents, and likewise the pathetic officiating would be an understatement.

The refereeing was as crooked as the hastily made lines on the field, providing further evidence CONCACAF has a long way to go to in improving its officiating and the legitimacy of the competition. Toronto finished the game with nine players, after Nick LaBrocca and Fuad Ibrahim were sent off for borderline bookable challenges.

Arabe Unido may be six-time Panamanian League Champions, but it hardly play the game that way.

Squad selection in Panama was as much of a problem as the diving and bad officiating for TFC. Head coach at the time, Preki, never was able to balance playing time appropriately, thus Toronto never fully committed itself to success in either CCL or league play.

Case and point; while Preki rested Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman for a vital league match in Kansas City to save them for a CONCACAF game in Honduras in July, he fielded a weakened starting XI for Toronto’s trip to Panama, seemingly saving his top players for a league match against Real Salt Lake four days later.

This inconsistency meant the likes De Rosario and goalkeeper Stefan Frei were left out of the starting lineup in Panama. In turn, Arabe Unido dominated possession from the get-go, scored an ugly goal, decimating any TFC hope for CCL success stemming from a home victory over Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul a week earlier.

So expect a small, but vocal Toronto crowd Tuesday night. And someone else taking the heat from the fans has to be music to the ears of TFC management.

If the various protests at Saturday’s home match against Columbus didn’t send the message of supporter displeasure, meager season’s ticket renewal rates at rumoured clip of 35% rate surely does. TFC extended their season ticket renewal period until Friday. And a strong showing from Toronto FC youth Tuesday could go a long way to showing no matter what the regime may look like going forward, there’s good reason to keep watching.

Being called up for the match, Toronto FC Academy midfielders Ashtone Morgan and Oscar Cordon trained with the first team Monday, joining the likes of defender Doneil Henry and forward Nicholas Lindsay, Toronto’s two professional contract signings from the Academy.

Interim Head Coach Nick Dasovic says he plans on giving the young players a chance to play with the senior side. Dasovic also said he will use Tuesday, and the team’s last game at DC United on Saturday to reward players deserving of playing time.

Toronto’s last CCL home game was played in front of just 10,581 spectators; the worst home attendance in Toronto FC’s four year history.

gareth.wheeler@suntv.canoe.ca


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