|Toronto FC's Luis Silva is pursued by L.A. Galaxy's Landon Donovan during their CONCACAF Champions League game at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., March 14, 2012. (JEFF GROSS/Getty Images/AFP)
TORONTO - Goals on both sides of halftime lifted Toronto to a 2-1 (4-3 aggregate) win over the defending MLS Champion L.A. Galaxy at the Home Depot Centre on Wednesday night, clinching TFC’s place in the CONCACAF Champions League’s last four — just the second MLS club to achieve the feat.
Like he did eight days ago, TFC’s Ryan Johnson opened the scoring in the 34th minute after receiving a driven cross from Nick Soolsma. The Jamaican international’s towering header fell perfectly into the far side netting to give Toronto an improbable lead heading into the break.
After securing a 2-2 draw in the first leg last week, a Ty Harden own goal 10 minutes after halftime put the home side back in control.
But the Galaxy’s comfort was short lived after Johnson found space on the left flank in the 67th minute. The Jamaican international drove a low diagonal across the frame of goal and into the path of a streaking Soolsma, whose one-time effort beat Josh Saunders to put the Reds back in front.
Appearing as a late substitute, Toronto’s Luis Silva came close to putting the game out of reach when a TFC counter-attack ended with the rookie on the edge of the area. After cutting Galaxy defender Sean Franklin to the inside, Toronto’s newest addition sent his low effort inches wide of the far post.
In the dying moments the Reds were forced to fight off a number of teasing balls from David Beckham that nearly saw the Galaxy draw even in the 90th minute.
In similar fashion to the way they leveled the series in Toronto last week, Beckham’s corner once again fell inside Toronto’s penalty area to a number of unmarked attackers. After a scramble in the box, Juninho’s one-time effort sailed just over the crossbar to keep the Reds in front just minutes from full time.
In the 92nd minute, with everyone forward, a final Beckham restart sailed harmlessly wide of Toronto’s goal, assuring the Reds the needed 2-1 win and a place in the competition’s semifinals.
CH CH CHANGES
Head coach Aron Winter’s decision to make three changes — two of which were highly unexpected — appeared half-cocked to say the least.
In an expected move, Winter replaced stand-in holding midfielder Terry Dunfield with Julian de Guzman, who returned from yellow card suspension. But the decision to replace a normally steady Stefan Frei with second-choice ’keeper Milos Kocic was questionable at best.
While uncanny, Kocic answered those questions with multiple game-changing saves, quality distribution and confidence in the air — easily the game’s best player.
Most shockingly, Toronto’s bench boss elected to rest standout rookie Silva — who scored in the opening leg — for Soolsma. With Soolsma moving wide, Johnson moved centrally to play as a withdrawn attacker — moves that paid off when both were involved in each of Toronto’s goals.
One has to wonder if Winter’s decision to swap Frei for Kocic has anything to do with the mistakes that led to the Galaxy fighting back from two goals down in Toronto last week. The Swiss ’keeper missed a critical punch that led to the Galaxy’s first goal before being poor on the late corner that allowed Landon Donovan to score the equalizer in the opening leg.
Winter’s refusal to name a first choice ’keeper continues to puzzle soccer purists, but it paid off in the 17th minute when Kocic came up big. After beating Toronto’s high defensive line, Kocic was quick off his line to smother Mike Magee’s one-on-one effort … Just after the break, Kocic saved the Reds again when a Beckham diagonal fell to Magee on the back stick … Kocic would make a third massive save in the 75th minute when Irish international Robbie Keane looked certain to score … The Reds were exposed trying to utilize an abnormally high defensive line thoughout the first half — strange tactics against a club with so many offensive weapons. Looking to stay a goal up ahead of halftime, the Reds were fortunate not concede in the opening half hour.
After easily disposing of the Seattle Sounders 7-2 on aggregate in Torreon, Mexico last night, Santos Laguna awaits TFC in the tournament’s semifinal later this month.
Monterrey secured passage to CONCACAF’s second semifinal earlier this week after dropping fellow Mexican outfit Morelia in convincing fashion.
The current Cup holders face the winner of Pumas and Salvadoran side Metapan, which goes tonight in Mexico City.