TORONTO - Finally playing decently in its domestic league, Toronto FC continues to excel at the CONCACAF Champions League tournament as well.
The Reds dominated El Salvador’s CD Aguila on Wednesday evening at BMO Field, piling up five goals to one by the visitors and showing an ability to finish that has been missing for most of the 2012 Major League Soccer campaign.
Reggie Lambe scored in each half and Luis Silva, Ryan Johnson and Terry Dunfield also tallied in one of the biggest blowout wins in team history.
Despite missing a few decent chances in front of the goal, the Reds managed to convert three attempts in the opening half alone — Toronto had only scored three goals in an entire game three times this season coming in.
The visitors were outshot 13-6 through 45 minutes and struggled defensively — perhaps because they only arrived in Toronto on the day of the game — giving up far too much space to TFC’s attackers.
The rookie Silva opened the scoring in the sixth minute, depositing a perfect header into the back of the goal off of a Torsten Frings corner kick.
Lambe doubled the lead, completing a fine passing play with Silva in the 17th minute.
The visitors inched within one, showing a rare sign of life, when Milos Kocic could not handle a free kick in the 37th minute. The ball popped loose to Yaikel Perez, who beat a sprawling Kocic.
But Dunfield restored the margin three minutes later by one-timing a shot from Ashtone Morgan — who turned in a dominant, creative effort — that found its way through on a lucky play.
Lambe quickly made it 4-1 to start the second half, firing one home after going surprisingly unmarked after a fine pass from Morgan.
After more Toronto pressure, Johnson was sent in all alone by Silva, waited out the keeper and scored into the gaping net.
Toronto needed to come up with a stirring effort if it was to have any chance of duplicating its prior success in the competition.
The Reds went on a stirring CCL run last season, reaching the semi-finals in part by eliminating MLS champion Los Angeles, providing a rare success story to counter some of the negativity surrounding the perennially-losing franchise.
The competition has changed this time around however, and Toronto faces an even more daunting challenge to advance again, needing to win Group 1.
That would mean finishing ahead of Aguila, as well as Santos Laguna, the team that thrashed the Reds 7-3 on aggregate in the semis (though TFC actually led 2-1 at one point in the deciding game) in April and lost in the final before rallying to win its extremely tough domestic league.
Knowing Laguna’s pedigree made Wednesday’s affair all but a must win for the home side.
"This is a game we have to win," Johnson had said at training ahead of the match.
He was right and personally contributed with a goal after scoring five times in the competition last season.
Toronto is now 10-7-6 in the CCL — and unbeaten in seven of its past eight CCL games.
The team has surrendered one goal or less in 12 of its all-time 13 CCL contests at BMO Field.
While MLS success is quite another matter, there is no question the Reds rise to the occasion in these matches.
The victory was the fourth in five games in all competitions for Toronto – a marked improvement from anything seen in these parts for quite some time and a far better outing than Saturday’s 2-0 loss against Houston.
The only negative for Toronto was only 5,324 came out to see the scoring bonanza — the second-fewest in club history — and many wore Aguila colours.
Toronto will play five league games this month before hosting Santos on Aug. 28th, just three days after playing in Houston.
Striker Eric Hassli was held out again as he recovers from an ankle injury, but could be inserted into the lineup on Saturday in Chicago.