TORONTO - An inspired Toronto FC could not quite pull off an upset, but held on Tuesday for a 1-1 draw with Mexico’s Pumas UNAM to stay alive at the CONCACAF Champions League.
TFC will now need some help in order to advance to the quarterfinals of the competition next March — but showed considerable heart in giving the Mexican side a game two weeks after being humiliated 4-0 down South.
Surprisingly, it was Toronto that opened the scoring at BMO Field when Peri Marosevic converted a fine pass from Danny Koevermans who controlled the ball well in the box. The young forward patiently found an unguarded corner and beat ’keeper Odin Patino in the 35th minute.
“It was a wide-open lane. I knew that with a team like Pumas, you’re not going to get a lot of shots on goal, so when the opportunities come, you better take them. I’m glad it worked out,” Marosevic said.
“(It) was completely different to how we played in Mexico,” he said.
“We wanted to make a statement, prove that we still want this, we still want to be a part of this CONCACAF and take it as far as we can.”
Pumas leads Group C with eight points with one game remaining against last-place Tauro, which takes on FC Dallas — which like TFC has seven points — on Wednesday in Panama.
Dallas and Toronto will meet in Texas on Oct. 18 in a match that could decide who joins Pumas in the next round — barring a Tauro upset.
Marosevic thinks Tauro can help out Toronto on Wednesday and hopes that final meeting against Dallas — his former team, a side he asked to be released from after being buried on the bench — will give him a chance for revenge.
“I’m glad that it’s coming down to Dallas,” he said.
For head coach Aron Winter, Tuesday’s result was a mixed bag of emotions. Pleased that so many young players stepped up for a large number of absent starters, but resigned to the fact that three points were attainable.
“Before the game, you should be happy with one point, but after the game, you must also be a little bit disappointed that you have given it away easily,” Winter said.
The home side got lucky with two shots hitting the post behind Milos Kocic, but could not contain Pumas, which came out strong to start the second half.
Marco Palacios finally equalized in the 52nd-minute, heading in a corner kick.
TFC had played conservatively with the lead and it cost them, but went after the full three points from there, coming close on a couple of occasions.
Winter said getting a draw against Pumas, a richer, more decorated club, was an achievement.
“They have got more quality than us. Last year they were the champions of Mexico, that says a lot,” he said.
Still, the Reds were dejected about how they blew the chance to gain the full three points after leaving the field to loud cheers following a strong first half.
Pumas controlled the play from the start of the second half and Marco Palacios finally headed in a corner kick in the 52nd-minute to equalize.
Conceding on corner kicks has been a problem for TFC all season.
“We kind of let it slip away on the set piece,” Marosevic said.
“We have to be strong in the box. Every single person has to take responsibility … You have to know your role you have to know which guy you pick up, how close you are to the guy. You have to attack the ball and it got away from us a little bit.”
The Reds lost defender Richard Eckersley to a hamstring injury, but Winter said Plata should return on Saturday.
STARLESS NIGHT AT BMO FIELD
In its biggest game of the year, Toronto FC had to take on Pumas UNAM minus four players — two of them extremely influential.
Captain and lynchpin Torsten Frings sat due to yellow card accumulation, while Eric Avila who has added much-needed creativity to the offence was ineligible to play having suited up for FC Dallas earlier this year in this tournament.
While Mikael Yourrasowsky has been in and out of favour this season, his absence, along with that of fellow midfielder Terry Dunfield — also due to yellow card accumulation — hurt the team’s depth. Dunfield has performed well alongside or replacing fellow Canadian international Julian de Guzman in the midfield.
Further, forward Joao Plata was out again due to injury.
On the plus side for the Reds, with a key league match looming in Mexico, Pumas head coach Guillermo Vazquez elected to go with a younger lineup than the one that thrashed Toronto 4-0 earlier this month.
While ’keeper Odin Patino started along with some of his defenders, Martin Bravo, who scored three of the four goals, was on the bench, along with Efrain Velarde who scored the other.