CCL: Mariner admits road will be rough for Toronto FC

Paul Mariner, claps

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TORONTO – Paul Mariner has no illusions. Toronto FC face a stern challenge in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“It’s going to be difficult for us, but we’ll give it our best shot,” Toronto FC’s head coach told MLSsoccer.com last Friday. “It‘s a very tough draw.”

Toronto drew Águila of El Salvador, their opponents on Wednesday at BMO Field (8 pm ET, FOX Soccer) in their opening game, and Santos Laguna of Mexico – who defeated the Reds 7-3 on aggregate in the CCL semifinals in March and April.

“To be honest, I’m really concerned about the MLS,” Mariner said. “The Champions League is such a bonus for us considering the season that we’ve had.”

Mariner took over the club from Aron Winter on June 7 after the team opened with a 1-9-0 league record. The team has been revived somewhat and currently stands at 5-12-4. The new format that includes three-team groups with one winner advancing leaves no room for error, but also means fewer games and less travel.

Toronto used their CCL success last year and early this year to make up for another disappointing season in the league, again failing to make the playoffs in 2011, and a poor start in the league this season. Toronto beat the LA Galaxy in their CCL quarterfinal in March before being eliminated by Santos. But Toronto did hold the Mexican team to a 1-1 draw in Toronto and were tied 2-2 after the first half in Torreón before falling part in the second half.

Then as the Reds continued their winless ways in league play in 2012, they won their fourth consecutive Canadian championship.

“I don’t want to be misconstrued,” Mariner said. “I don’t want to be taken the wrong way but the position that we’re in – we’re really thankful for winning the Canadian Championship  – but it makes it a little bit harder for us. But the way that the players are going about their business is that they’re of a mindset now that they want to be competitive in every single game, and I can guarantee that we’ll be very competitive in all that the matches we play."

There was some nastiness between Toronto and Santos in the first leg at BMO Field that could be the start of a rivalry.

“There was a little bit of something,” Mariner said. “But I must admit that the hospitality the club received down there was second to none. And even though it was a runaway at the end, for 50 minutes, it was pretty tight.”