CCL: Toronto happy to step into underdog role again

TORONTO – If Toronto FC were the underdogs against the LA Galaxy, they’re even bigger minnows on Wednesday against Club Santos Laguna of Mexico (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com).

The Reds relished their unfancied role in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against LA, and they bulled their way through to the semis with a 2-1 victory in Southern California on March 14.

They’re more than happy to step back into that position again.

“I think it’s a good thing we’re cast as underdogs because people don’t expect too much,” defender Richard Eckersley told reporters after Tuesday’s training at BMO Field. “So if obviously we put on a good performance tomorrow, it will be great.”

Other than being underdogs, forward Ryan Johnson said the situation is not quite the same.

“It’s a little bit different, because with the Galaxy, we see those guys a lot so we know what to expect from those guys,” he said. “Against Santos, we don’t really know what to expect from any of those players. This time is definitely a different feeling.”

The high from the upset of the Galaxy didn’t last long, as the Reds go into Wednesday’s semifinal first leg at BMO Field on a downer.

Three days after the triumph at The Home Depot Center, they lost 3-1 in their league opener in Seattle. More importantly, they lost their top player and captain, midfielder Torsten Frings, who injured a hamstring and will be out for four to six weeks.

Last Friday, they lost goalkeeper Stefan Frei to a broken leg in training. The next day, they lost 3-0 in their league home opener to San Jose.

But despite those setbacks, Johnson said the team is ready.

“Spirits are high,” the Jamaican international said. “We worked hard to get this far over the last how many months. And we didn’t come this far to mess it up like this. I know the last two games were disappointing, but we’re not going to just bow out like that.”

They’ll need that spirit against a high-flying Santos team that leads the Mexican Primera División and hasn’t tasted defeat in league play since February.

“Everyone knows what this team is going to be like,” Eckersley said. “Mexican sides are very technical, they work hard and they work as a group and are very well organized.”

And although staying away from favorite labels, whether they've chose that fate or not, has served Toronto well up to this point, the Reds remain wary of but not overly impressed with los Guerreros.

“You can’t give them too much respect,” said Johnson, “because if you’re too afraid of somebody, you’re defeating yourself before the game starts.”