TFC in tough against Santos Laguna
By KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency
|Toronto FC's Richard Eckersley (right) wins the ball in the air against Oribe Peralta of Santos Laguna. Toronto FC played Santos Laguna in a CONCACAF Champions League game on Aug. 28, 2012 at BMO Field in Toronto. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)
It's torture, really -- a one-off match in a Champions League group that is more or less already decided.
And with most TFC players simply playing for the end of the season at this point, tonight's CONCACAF "decider" against Santos Laguna has about as much interest surrounding it as in the second half of last week's World Cup qualifying laugher in Honduras -- maybe less.
As a result of the result Los Guererros handed the Reds when the two sides met in late August, a match that saw Santos net two stoppage-time goals before a 3-1 final, Toronto will advance to CONCACAF's knockout phase only if it secures the reverse of that result at one of the most feared venues in the region.
"It was the 90th minute again," head coach Paul Mariner said in retrospect.
The Reds have conceded an unprecedented number of goals after the 75th minute this season, including 16 inside the final 15 minutes of MLS matches.
"I thought we did everything that we needed to do," said Mariner, looking back at what was a catastrophic 3-1 loss. "We almost got a second goal but didn't quite do it and then they (scored) on the break."
In what seems like eons ago -- before the Reds completed their 0-9-0 league start, suffering a string of devastating injuries along the way -- Toronto travelled to the Estadio Corona in need of a win or draw (involving two or more goals) in the last edition's semifinal.
Like it did a few months ago, after allowing the Reds to hang around for a majority of that semifinal, Santos' quality took over in the second half before a 6-2 drubbing that ended TFC's Cinderella run -- a result the Reds likely will never forget, at least what's left of them.
Of the 11 TFC players who started that 2011-2012 CONCACAF semifinal in Torreon last April, just five are expected to be in the side tonight. To make matters worse, Toronto's all-injury team picked up a 10th member over the weekend when Logan Emory sauntered off with a shoulder injury during a goalless draw with Montreal.
"We know what we're up against," Mariner said. "I think (Oribe) Peralta and (Herculez) Gomez will play up front (for them). They're an exceptional pairing. Their interplay is excellent with one-twos around the box.
"We're going to try and protect underneath with Aaron Maund. Adrian (Cann) and (Richard) Eckersley will be charged with the task of trying to nullify their threat."
That means Irish international Darren O'Dea hasn't fully recovered from a thigh injury he picked up while playing with the Republic in a World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands last week.
Although the Reds will get Ryan Johnson back after the Jamaican missed the Montreal match due to yellow card accumulation, Eric Hassli didn't travel due to the birth of his son.
"Obviously it's going to be difficult," Mariner acknowledged, "but like I said to the boys it's 11 blokes vs. 11 blokes so let's get after it."
Toronto is 0-2-1 in Mexico with its only positive result coming by way of a goalless draw against Cruz Azul in 2010.
Santos is unbeaten in its four home Champions League dates against MLS sides, topping the Colorado Rapids 2-0 in last year's group stage before destroying the Seattle Sounders, 6-1, and TFC, 6-2, during the last edition's knockout phase. Los Guerreros controversially beat the Columbus Crew in the 2010-2011 group stage to start the streak.
"It's a wonderful theater of football," Mariner said of the Estadio Coruna. "It presents a lot of challenges. It gives people a chance to further their career "¦ The coaching staff will learn so much from this game."
TORONTO FC @ SANTOS LAGUNA
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
WED. OCT 24, 2012, 8 p.m.
Adrian Cann vs. Oribe Peralta
Head coach Paul Mariner announced Tuesday that Cann, who came on for an injured Logan Emory over the weekend, will start in place of Darren O'Dea next to Richard Eckersley in the centre of Toronto's defence. But after receiving limited game action over the last two months, the task couldn't be more difficult. Mariner had nothing but praise for Peralta, a Mexican youth international, who starred for El Tri at the London Olympics, and keeping a clean sheet within MLS has proven difficult at times. It's a chance for Cann to show he deserves to stay on following a season in which the Canadian has shown little. The stakes couldn't be higher for players who continue to fight for 2013 contracts.
Score first: As Santos Laguna owns every tiebreaker, conceding first will mean TFC needs to score four in order to advance.
Show fans some fight: When was the last time you saw a player not named Darren O'Dea get into a scuffle or a scrap after the whistle? While the playoffs have been embarrassingly out of reach for quite some time, TFC's on-field emotions haven't changed accordingly.
AROUND THE CCL
This week, five teams will join Seattle Sounders, L.A. Galaxy, and Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals:
Tuesday: Houston advanced with a 1-1 draw vs. Olimpia (HON). Canadian Andre Hainault had Houston’s goal.
Late Tuesday: Salt Lake will advance if it beats Herediano (CR) 1-0 OR by two goals.
Wednesday: Santos will advance if TFC doesn’t win 3-0 OR 4-2, 5-3, 6-4 etc.
Wednesday: Tigres (MEX) will advance if it beats Alajuelense (CR).
Thursday: Chivas (MEX) will advance if it beats Xelaju (GUA) 1-0 OR by two goals.