TORONTO - For the third time this month, Toronto FC played the biggest game in its history.
For the second time, the club earned a draw and an opportunity to move forward at the CONCACAF Champion’s League.
The 1-1 tie with Santos Laguna of Mexico sets up a rematch next Wednesday in Tarreon, Mexico.
It was a disappointing result for the Reds and the bulk of the 19,500 on hand, however.
Looking to rebound from a subpar start to the Major League Soccer season, the Reds did just that, outplaying a strong Mexican side that leads its domestic league.
Miguel Aceval scored in the 37th minute, erasing Hercules Gomez’ 30th-minute opener for the visitors, but TFC should have had more.
As has been the story so far, the team had little difficulty creating quality scoring chances, but all kinds of trouble finishing them.
Striker Danny Koevermans, in particular, so brilliant a year ago, continues to struggle to find his form.
Koevermans had a good low free kick strike in the ninth minute but Oswaldo Sanchez easily made the stop, and Koevermans muffed several other good opportunities.
To make matters worse, he received a yellow card after taking a free kick too early, meaning he will be suspended for the rematch due to accumulation.
At least Aceval scored on the re-kick.
Milos Kocic made a few tremendous saves to prevent a TFC loss, but the Reds were the better side overall, Gomez’ possibly offside (he was sent in nicely by Darwin Quintero but it looked awfully close) goal aside.
TFC had controlled the play to the point of the goal.
Aceval’s hammered-home retake was a just goal as the home side had earned five corner kicks to Santos’ one and had a six shots to four edge which grew to 13-8 by the end.
Besides Koevermans, Reggie Lambe, Joao Plata, Terry Dunfield and Ryan Johnson came extremely close to beating Sanchez.
Johnson nearly gave the Reds the lead in the 63rd minute, but his attempt off of a Julian de Guzman pass skidded just by the post after Sanchez got a piece.
Seconds later, Kocic dove to make a brilliant stop.
Terry Dunfield nearly put in a tipped free kick, sending it in just wide.
Osmar Mares was sent off with a straight red card after extending his foot to dig his spikes into Richard Eckersley, giving the Reds more than 10 minutes to break through again.
But the team failed to press for half of the time and could not score again.
The visitors dove frequently all night and dishonoured themselves again late in extra time when Quintero got a straight red of his own for an incident involving Ashtone Morgan.
After both players went down, both benches rushed onto the field and security had to break up a potential brawl.
Toronto’s defence was stronger than it has been during the MLS season and de Guzman bounced back from a poor effort against San Jose to play an effective contest.
Next week’s meeting in Mexico will be for a berth in the CCL final, but it will be an awfully tough challenge for TFC.
In the previous stage of the competition, fellow MLS club Seattle was up on Santos before heading to Torreon, but was drilled 6-1 in Mexico.
MLS clubs have found success in Mexico extremely difficult to attain, making this game all the more important.
Another goal or two by TFC would have been massive, but alas, was not to be.
Now, the Reds will have to win 1-0 or 2-1 to advance, or tie 1-1 and win on penalties.