TORONTO - The stage is set for the most anticipated date in TFC’s short history — a win and you’re in a knockout match in the most prestigious club competition within the region.
“These opportunities don’t come by all the time,” Terry Dunfield said from the team’s hotel near Dallas. “We’re in a good position going into this game … and we’ve played well over the last couple of months.”
Coming off a quality result at Philadelphia Saturday, Toronto travels to Texas for a decisive Champions League match Tuesday against FC Dallas on the sixth and final day of the tournament’s current stage.
The Reds sit level on seven points with the Hoops, a point behind Group C leaders Pumas who are home to Tauro Tuesday night.
“Big games like this is why you play,” Dunfield said. “The guys got a great result in Philadelphia and we’ll carry that momentum.”
As the first tie-breaker in the group stage is points earned between concerned teams, only a win will see TFC through to the CONCACAF quarterfinals after Dallas defeated TFC 1-0 on Match Day 2 in August.
In addition to Champions League play, the Reds are winless in two league matches against the Hoops this year following a pair of mid-season single-goal defeats.
“We did well in the home games (against Dallas) but didn’t get the results,” Andy Iro said. “(Dallas) will be a couple of men short … we can take that experience from the previous games.”
With both Jair Benitez and Fabian Castillo receiving red cards in the club’s away defeat to Tauro on Match Day 5, Dallas will be without a pair of talented attackers in a game where a draw will likely be enough to see the Texans through to the next round.
The absence of Benitez could create issues for a normally steady Dallas back four that may struggle to find a replacement who is capable of providing the box-to-box work that has troubled opposing teams since Benitez arrived at the club in 2009.
As the Reds have failed to score against the Hoops in three meetings this season, the suspensions could prove decisive in being the advantage TFC needs to finally unlock a Hoops defence as it approaches a 300-minute shutout streak against Toronto.
“We’re mentally prepared for this game,” former FC Dallas product Peri Marosivic said. “It means a lot to us … obviously it’s another big game playing against my old club.”
In addition to giving Marosevic and Danny Koevermans Saturday night off, head coach Aron Winter issued Torsten Frings and Joao Plata significant rest coming out of halftime in preparation for Tuesday’s match.
Toronto’s only concern remains the questionable status of key defender and attacking threat Richard Eckersley — the man who would have been assigned the difficult task of neutralizing Dallas winger and MLS MVP candidate Brek Shea.
The Englishman continues to be hampered by a nagging hamstring injury he sustained against Pumas last month.
“They are a dangerous,” Marosevic said. “But we’re a dangerous side too … we play well as a team. As long as we do that and have that mentality coming into this game I think we’ll be fine.”
In search of just their second road win against an MLS opponent this season, nothing short of three points will do.
If Toronto manages to get into the half on level terms, the club will be in good position to push for an eventual winner as the home side begins to sit back in an attempt to preserve the needed draw.
For all the positives of late following an otherwise tumultuous defensive year, if the back line concedes early in Texas, it will be curtains for what could have been an otherwise positive ending.
In its five-year history, TFC has come from behind to win just two matches.
Tuesday night, the first goal means everything.
Toronto FC at Dallas FC, 8 p.m. ET (Gol-TV)
Danny Koevermans (TFC ) v. George John (FC Dallas)
Winter went with conventional wisdom and rested TFC’s most efficient scorer in a 1-1 draw in Philadelphia — rest the Dutchman will need to get the better of one of the most complete central defenders in MLS. Thought to be headed to Blackburn during the summer transfer window, John failed a medical and returned stateside to the 2010 MLS finalists. Koevermans has been instrumental in getting the Reds to the spot they’re in today with a decisive goal against Tauro and a crucial assist against Pumas last month. If he can do it one final time in 2011, the Dutch target may take top honours as TFC’s most influential player this year — a season he joined halfway through.
— The Reds haven’t defeated Dallas since 2007 and must snap a 10-match winless streak that includes three consecutive 1-0 losses in 2011.
— After suffering a winless September, Dallas appears to have found its form. The club locked up an MLS playoff spot this month with back-to-back league wins.
— Brek Shea looks to be firing on all cylinders — the U.S. international has 11 league goals this season and scored a cracker Saturday against the visiting Whitecaps.
Each of the clubs in TFC’s group are alive and well heading into the final match. Needing a top two Group C place to advance beyond the current stage, the following scenarios will determine who qualifies for the quarterfinals.
— TFC advances if they defeat FC Dallas.
— Dallas advances if they defeat Toronto OR they draw TFC and Pumas defeats Tauro.
— Pumas advances if they draw Tauro OR if Dallas draws TFC.
— Tauro advances if they defeat Pumas AND Dallas draw TFC.