April 3, 2012
TFC, Santos headed for war
By Kurtis Larson, QMI Agency
TORONTO - After a bench-clearing brawl ended the opening leg of a Champions League semifinal at BMO Field, Santos Laguna promised Wednesday night’s return would be a war.
“Can you imagine what we can do to Toronto (at home),” Santos’ Herculez Gomez said after scoring in a 1-1 draw with TFC last week. “Just wait (until we) are in Torreon.”
A fight flared up at full-time last Wednesday when Toronto’s Ashtone Morgan went to ground after a headbutt from Carlos Quintero. Santos’ Colombian striker received a six-match ban in 2011 for a similar incident.
“It’s why you have fights in hockey,” Milos Kocic said of the bad blood. “To bring the energy level up. If (tonight) ends with a fight then that’s okay.”
Toronto chartered to Torreon late Tuesday and will be in one of the most dangerous parts of Mexico for just over 24 hours before heading to Montreal directly after the match.
The club travels to the Estadio Corona with an 0-1-1 record on Mexican soil, including a 4-0 thrashing during group play at Pumas.
Heeding warnings from Santos’ players following the opening leg, the Reds are prepared for what will likely be the most difficult environment many of the players have ever been in.
“Hostile to say the least,” said Richard Eckersly, when asked what kind of reception the club expects when it arrives in Torreon. “I think it’s going to be an interesting game. Hopefully it will just be sorted out on the field.”
The Reds received good news Monday that Chilean defender Miguel Aceval is available for selection after missing Saturday’s loss to Columbus. With Torsten Frings recovering from a hamstring strain and Adrian Cann still in the reserves, with Logan Emory ineligible, TFC might have been without two central defenders.
Similarly, with Danny Koevermans set to miss tonight’s match due to accumulation, head coach Aron Winter will shuffle his lineup in search of a replacement for the club’s target.
“We’ve got other guys who can replace Danny (Koevermans),” Winter said. “Ryan (Johnson), (Luis) Silva, those are some of our options.”
Santos Laguna enters Wednesday’s match riding high following a 3-1 league win at Toluca on Sunday, with the usual suspects, Oribe Peralta, Christian Suarez and Quintero, all scoring.
Currently the most in-form club in the Champions League’s last four, Los Guerreros set their sights on reaching the final almost immediately after Sunday’s Mexican league affair.
“We are one step away from the (final) and nothing will be easy,” Santos ‘keeper Oswaldo Sanchez said through a translator. “We need to take it very seriously … people will support us and we want to beat (Toronto).”
The winner of CONCACAF’s regional tournament receives qualification to next December’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
“The team is playing well,” Santos defender Carlos Morales told the Mexican club’s website. “(We are) increasingly close to the target that is qualification.”
Receiving a pair of red cards in Toronto last week, the home side will be without defender Osmar Mares and Quintero — a big loss as the Colombian has scored four times in the competition. However, Santos will get play-maker Juan Rodriguez back from yellow card suspension.
“I think we’re both competitive and we both want to win the (tournament),” Eckersley said. “We’re not laying down and I think it’s important that we have that competitiveness … No one’s left alone. If we’re fighting then we’re all fighting together.”
The aggregate winner will likely travel to Monterrey for the first leg of the Champions League final in two weeks. Although Monterrey meets Pumas in the tournament’s other semifinal Wednesday, the visitors hold a 3-0 advantage travelling to Mexico City.
Ryan Johnson vs. Felipe Baloy
Santos’ Panamanian centre back didn’t feature at BMO Field but will likely start in Torreon to close down a Toronto attack that had its way with the Mexicans last week. With Danny Koevermans suspended, Baloy, will be assigned the task of shutting down one of TFC’s most in-form attackers — Ryan Johnson. With nobody scoring for a Toronto side that has registered one goal in its last three games, all eyes will be on the Jamaican to break through in Mexico.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
The Reds were in a similar position heading to L.A. in the quarterfinals. On that night, Toronto’s no-nonsense defence and a willingness to defend with 10 men provided the Galaxy with less opportunities than it’s used to. In Mexico, TFC must play even more defensive and hope to break on the counter through the first 75 minutes.
SLOW THINGS DOWN
Toronto can’t get into a high-paced, high-energy war. The Seattle Sounders looked to keep up with Santos in Torreon last month and were run off the field. Should the Reds grab a lead, the Mexicans will come back flying. Toronto will need to take every opportunity to slow things down to keep Santos out of its attacking rhythm.
* The two clubs are heading in decidedly different directions. Santos Laguna hasn’t lost in the Clausura since February while TFC is yet to pick up a league point.
* Odds-makers have Toronto as 11 to 1 underdogs to earn its first win on Mexican soil. That said, with the away goals rule in effect, a 2-2 finish would be enough.
* The U.S. State Department considers Torreon, Mexico to be one of the most dangerous areas in the country, estimating a murder rate of 40 per 100,000 residents.
* In 2011, police exchanged fire with a Transnational Criminal Organizations just outside the Estadio Corona (capacity 30,050).
* In terms of support, Doneil Henry and Matt Stinson rejoined the club Monday after competing with Canada’s under-23s during CONCACAF’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Nashville and Kansas City.