TORONTO - New league, new result for Toronto FC.
The Reds opened the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League by dominating Nicaragua’s Real Esteli by more than the 2-1 scoreline indicated on Wednesday night.
Toronto claimed posession for over 70% of the game (73%), a far cry from how it has performed during a dismal 3-11-9 Major League Soccer campaign.
The shots were 22-7 in favour of the home side
Joao Plata was the sparkplug, scoring two spectacular second-half goals after the Reds failed to breakthrough in the opening 45 minutes.
His opener in the 56th minute was pretty — instead of firing a shot from outside, Plata faked out two defenders and slid a shot past a lunging Esteli ’keeper Carlos Menieta.
What followed was even nicer. After surprise starter Matt Stinson was taken down just outside the box, Plata nailed a picturesque free kick which bent at just the right time to beat a diving Menieta. That brought the small crowd of 9,241 fans to its feet.
Vying to join Dwayne De Rosario as the only member of TFC to record a hat trick, a powerful strike by Plata soared high in extra time.
For the second game in a row, Toronto looked excellent early, creating all kinds of pressure.
But, again, all the good work up front could not result in a first-half goal, despite some quality chances.
The best of which occurred later, when in the 35th minute Ryan Johnson almost headed in a pretty cross from Nick Soolsma. However, Menieta got a piece and deflected the ball away.
Johnson gave Menieta more trouble on a 64th-minute header off a nice set-up from Stinson.
Milos Kocic saw his first action of the season because starting goalkeeper Stefan Frei was nursing a hand injury picked up Saturday in Kansas City and was rarely tested until his error in the 81st minute allowed the visitors to get on the board.
Esteli took advantage of Kocic’s inexperience for a road goal which could prove important should the Reds fall 1-0 next Wednesday in Nicarauga.
On the play in question, Richard Eckersley and Alesandro Calero chased a ball that Kocic went to ground to recover. Somehow the ball popped loose, right to Calero who cut the margin in half.
When it was over, Frei draped his arm over Kocic and gave him words of encouragement.
TFC head coach Aron Winter elected to begin the game with regular starters Julian de Guzman and Plata on the bench. Defenders Ty Harden, Danleigh Borman and Eddy Viator also were substitutes as youngsters Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan made the opening lineup.
Real Esteli was making its second CCL appearance after having previously falling 1-0 on aggregate to the Montreal Impact.
The Nicaraguans could not generate much in the way of offence against TFC’s revamped back four, which performed well despite the lack of Esteli aggression.
Morgan, in particular, stood out, though Henry, Richard Eckersley and Andy Iro also had their moments.
TFC improved to 4-1-1 in the CCL with its fifth game without a loss at home in the competition.
The team is looking to advance to the group stage of the tournament for the second year in a row. The Reds beat C.D. Motagua of Honduras a year ago.