Draw with L.A. bitter pill for TFC

L.A. Galaxy's Mike Magee (right) goes up for a header against Toronto FC during their CONCACAF...

L.A. Galaxy's Mike Magee (right) goes up for a header against Toronto FC during their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., March 7, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:20 AM ET

TORONTO - Oh, so close!

In front of a record crowd of 47,658 at the Rogers Centre, Toronto FC scored goals six minutes apart in the first half to rocket to a 2-0 lead against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

However, the defending MLS Cup champions showed their mettle by rallying to pull off a 2-2 draw thanks to Landon Donovan’s 89th minute goal.

It was a bitter pill for the Reds to swallow, since this two-leg CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal will conclude next week in California.

With away goals counting for so much, Toronto will need either an away win, a 3-3-draw, or a 2-2 tie to send it to penalties to advance to the semifinals.

What could have been.

Instead of wilting in what was the biggest game in club history, the Reds surged early, making Galaxy look like a team that had gone through a short pre-season, when just the opposite was true.

The Galaxy constantly went offside early and made some uncharacteristic mistakes. When Toronto ’keeper Stefan Frei made a fine save in the third minute, the home side caught fire, eventually piercing one of the stingiest teams around.

Both ’keepers could be faulted for the first goals conceded. Josh Saunders couldn’t scoop up a ball for the taking in the 12th minute and Ryan Johnson deposited the aftermath of a Torsten Frings corner kick behind him to set off bedlam in the stadium.

That was nothing compared to the noise unleashed when impressive rookie Luis Silva headed in another good cross by Frings in the 18th minute.

“It was an incredible atmosphere. You never dream of this moment,” Silva, who grew up in California as a Galaxy supporter, said afterwards.

His marker stunned everybody in attendance, but woke up the visitors who threatened on several occasions before Mike Magee took advantage of a Frei miscue to put in a quality cross from Sean Franklin in the 29th minute.

But Frei redeemed himself with more second- half brilliance, allowing Toronto to regain its composure and put some heat back on the Galaxy.

Three minutes after one of Frei’s best stops, Silva almost tallied again, but shot high with David Beckham getting a piece.

That proved costly when Donovan connected late, shortly after Beckham was pelted with a beer can prior to attempting a corner kick. Los Angeles players pointed to the offending patrons after equalizing.

Beckham’s improved play in the closing half helped turn the game around.

Though he credited TFC and its supporters for helping his side dig a hole for itself, L.A. coach Bruce Arena also railed against the artificial turf afterwards, but Reds head coach Aron Winter wasn’t buying that line of thinking.

“(He’s) looking for (an) excuse,” Winter said. “It’s very easy (to complain about it), but if you saw the whole game, we were the better team and we deserved to win.”

Added striker Danny Koevermans: “We can be competitive with them, we showed it today. We’re not out of the tournament, that’s for sure.

“It’s a shame for us and also for the people (in attendance) they tied it at the end.”

The draw seemed a fair outcome, though. After its stunning start, TFC was outplayed for many of the remaining minutes after L.A. made some adjustments. However, with some more luck, the Reds could have been in better shape. Magee’s opener was avoidable, while Donovan benefited from a scramble in front.

While it was a disappointing result for the massive crowd, faring so well against the league’s top squad was an encouraging sign for TFC on the eve of the regular season.

Los Angeles came in having scored eight goals and conceding four in the competition. TFC was even at seven for, seven against.

The Galaxy will have to play a league game on Saturday before Wednesday’s clash, which will benefit the Reds.


Videos

Photos