TORONTO - Aron Winter got it right.
Needing a goal, TFC refused to throw numbers forward on the road Wednesday night.
Cautious but in control, Toronto’s head coach dropped 10 men behind the ball to wait for the handful of chances that eventually provided the Reds a place in the Champions League’s last four.
Earning the necessary 4-3 aggregate win over the Galaxy in L.A. this week, Winter and the Reds were simply better when they needed to be.
Ryan Johnson continues to be the clinical finisher nobody thought he could be while Toronto’s defence continues to grind out games with results it would have surrendered in past seasons.
Made evident by the high, and sometimes dangerous, defensive line the club enacted Wednesday, Toronto’s back five is playing with a certain confidence the club hasn’t witnessed in five seasons.
Even though leading goal-scorer Danny Koevermans has yet to find his form, the Reds are beginning to turn some heads following a pair of early-season performances.
Given he’s admitted as much, Winter finally has the roster he’s been chasing for 15 months.
With Santos Laguna fresh off a commanding performance of their own Wednesday night, the Dutchman will test his newly configured roster against what’s arguably one of the best in the Western Hemisphere later this month.
One of Major League Soccer’s premier clubs took a 2-1 advantage into Torreon, Mexico Wednesday night — and left with a humiliating 6-1 defeat from Santos Laguna.
While the Mexicans’ quality can’t be ignored, Seattle’s back four played a big role in the drubbing. Santos punished a number of second half mistakes that led to the home side pulling away on the hour mark.
Anchored by Panamanian Felipe Baloy, while not impenetrable, Santos Laguna’s back four is close to mistake free. Although Seattle produced three goals against the Los Guerreros, Toronto’s clinical finishing must continue if they’re to compete in the aggregate series come March 28.
More worrisome is Santos’ ability on the ball. Demonstrated by the 6-1 shellacking, Santos breaks out in numbers, flowing forward and looking to overwhelm scrambling back lines that struggle to organize — making it arguably the most dangerous attacking side in the tournament.
WHAT IT MEANS
For close to a decade, Toronto fans have been starved of meaningful sporting events.
The Leafs haven’t hosted a playoff game since 2004, and it’s difficult to get excited about leagues — the CFL and NLL — that allow everyone into the post-season.
Despite the Raptors hosting the Nets in Game 5 during the 2007 NBA playoffs, TFC’s current run easily tops their first-round failure.
Furthermore, the Rogers Centre continues to be starved in October.
Cue the Canadian soccer critics that flood my inbox whenever the Reds earn respect.
Don’t view it as a slight against Toronto’s teams, but rather a chance to recognize a remarkable 11-month run.
After getting by FC Edmonton last April, the Reds knocked off Vancouver in the Canadian Championship to earn Canada’s lone place in the Champions League preliminary round.
After battling through a difficult preliminary series against pesky Nicaraguan winners Real Esteli, TFC was drawn into a difficult group that featured Mexico’s Pumas, Panama’s Tauro and FC Dallas.
A win in its sixth and final group stage match in Dallas saw TFC progress to the tournament’s knockout phase for the first time.
Emerging from a two-leg quarterfinal with L.A. this week, Toronto is set to host a regional giant in the competition’s last four later this month.
Wednesday’s result is already the biggest in Canadian club soccer history, but finding a way to overcome insurmountable odds in the semifinals would approach some of the biggest wins in MLS history.
Like it or not, this game is huge — words Toronto hasn’t heard since 2004.
THIS AND THAT
Wednesday’s result extended Toronto’s unbeaten run to six matches in all competition against the Galaxy … Falling 3-1 loss to Salt Lake on the weekend, for the first time since August 2010, the Galaxy dropped consecutive matches at the Home Depot Centre … Exactly how much do the Galaxy miss an injured Omar Gonzalez? With the league’s top defender in the lineup, L.A. surrendered just .83 goals per game. Following a season-ending knee injury in the off-season, L.A. is conceding 2.3 goals per game … The Reds were fortunate not to concede an additional goal from the penalty spot Wednesday night. Landon Donovan was clearly brought down inside the area just before the break — a big decision that would have changed the entire complexion of the match … And had Robbie Keane buried one of his many clear cut chances on the night, the Galacticos would have been in control. Toronto supporters will hail Milos Kocic as the night’s Man of the Match, but objective onlookers know just how fortunate TFC was not to concede a few more on the night.
Despite TFC’s improbable win, two matches can’t erase five years of failure.
In Seattle to open the regular season tomorrow, a result at CenturyLink Field will go a long way in determining if the Reds will threaten in 2012.
After earning just two away wins against MLS clubs a season ago, three points Saturday will give Toronto two road wins in its first two attempts.