TORONTO — Toronto FC made it to the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League last season, but advanced no further.
“I think last year the team didn’t expect to make it so far,” midfielder Julian de Guzman said after Tuesday’s training. “They weren’t prepared to be a part of a tournament such as the Champions League. We could’ve done better.”
De Guzman, who has had swelling in the left knee that underwent surgery in the off-season, is fit to play in Wednesday’s opening preliminary stage match at BMO Field against Real Estelí of Nicaragua (8 pm ET, FOX Soccer).
He has not played since the July 2 Nutrilite Canadian Championship final that Toronto won against the Vancouver Whitecaps to advance to get a berth in the Champions League.
De Guzman feels Toronto have learned something from last year.
“They’ve realized what it means to be at this stage for Toronto FC, and now that they have this opportunity, we won’t let this moment slip out of our hands,” he said. “This is also something that could definitely add some flavor to our season.”
The midfielder feels he is ready to play about 30 minutes on Wednesday after resuming training this week.
New center back Andy Iro also has been involved in the CONCACAF Champions League with the Columbus Crew.
“You just go out and play,” said Iro, who has played two games for TFC since he was acquired in a trade with Columbus. “You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know how they’re coming into it, you don’t know what formation, the players. What you do know is generally a team from that region, they’re going to be tactically pretty sound. Usually, defensively, they’re going to be a little bit of a liability.”
The teams play the return match in Nicaragua next week. In between, TFC play in Portland on Saturday.
“It’s difficult,” Iro said. “Me, personally, I have mixed reviews on it. I want to say that you want to win every game, you want to win every competition, but it’s difficult.
“Obviously, Toronto’s roster is spread pretty thin already. You look at this past week and the next two weeks. It’s an insane amount of games for a roster that isn’t that deep. Now you’re asking 18-, 19-year-old guys to step up in environments that maybe they’re not ready for. We’re going to go out and do our best.”
After playing in Nicaragua on Aug. 2, TFC play at D.C. United on Aug. 6.
“I don’t know if anyone in the league can cope with those schedules,” Iro said. “Just going on my past experience with Columbus usually — I don’t want to say it is a bad omen — but usually, that’s when we dropped off at Columbus in terms of our league play.
“That stress of travel and extra games on surfaces that are not ideal, or just poor field conditions, it’s not usually what you want. Hopefully we can rally. We’ve got guys that haven’t played a lot of minutes, like myself, throughout the season; we’ve got new guys who maybe haven’t played for a while, like [Danny] Koevermans and Torsten [Frings]. Hopefully, we can stay fresh for the most part.”
Midfielder Terry Dunfield, recently acquired from Vancouver, also is ready to play in Wednesday’s match.
Head coach Aron Winter said that Milos Kocic will likely start in goal for Toronto. Stefan Frei has played every minute of every match this season and has a hand injury.
Winter would not comment on the future of defender-midfielder Dan Gargan with the team, or other possible roster moves.
“I’ll speak about it when everything is approved,” Winter said.