TORONTO - Despite not making the Major League Soccer playoffs for the fifth year in a row, Toronto’s 2011 campaign can be judged a success thanks to Tuesday night’s stirring 3-0 triumph over FC Dallas in Frisco, Tex.
The win pushed the Reds through to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time and was without a doubt the biggest victory in franchise history.
Designated player Danny Koevermans scored in the 29th minute after Toronto created all kinds of early pressure and Joao Plata added another in the 69th along with a second in the 81st minute following a steal as the Reds avenged three earlier 1-0 defeats to Dallas this season.
Though TFC’s MLS season will end on Saturday at BMO Field, its 2012 season will get an early start next March at the quarterfinals in pursuit of a berth at the ninth edition of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Tied at 2-2-1 with Dallas but needing a win to advance because the home side owned a one-goal differential advantage, TFC came out blazing.
Toronto finally broke through when the speedy Plata burned Dallas’ defence again, setting up Koevermans, who had two cracks at beating keeper Kevin Hartman. The Dutchman made no mistake on the second opportunity.
At a sparsely populated Pizza Hut Park, Toronto’s travelling supporters outshouted the Dallas faithful.
Toronto had six shots to Dallas’ three at the half.
On several occasions this year, TFC had tried to sit on leads to disastrous results.
The team had talked of continuing to go forward with leads, instead of going into a defensive shell.
While the attack certainly wasn’t as aggressive after Koevermans’ goal until the lead was doubled, it was still much more dangerous than on those other occasions.
Toronto has not had many breaks this season, but might have gotten one in the 69th minute when defender Andy Iro made a bit of contact in the box with a flailing Dallas player.
Play went on, and Kocic moved the ball forward to Julian de Guzman. Eventually Koevermans made a nice flick to Plata who made an even prettier play to back heel the ball to Ryan Johnson. Johnson returned the ball to Plata who had plenty of space to beat Hartman.
The club had lost just twice in its last nine matches heading in and its confidence showed, particularly with Koevermans and Plata both fully healthy for the first time in a while.
Milos Kocic again got the start in goal and played another excellent game, aggressively challenging balls.
The defence played its best match in weeks — with young Doneil Henry perhaps putting in his best work as a Red. Ty Harden was also strong.
Toronto FC’s faithful have not had a lot to cheer about over the past five years, but will long remember this night.
It was validation for the fine work done by Aron Winter, Paul Mariner and the rest of the TFC staff in completely overhauling the club’s roster.
While success at the next stage of this competition still could be too much to ask for from Toronto, with a few more wise additions, the club should be in prime position to finally make the MLS playoffs next season.