TORONTO — Joao Plata scored twice in the second half as Toronto FC defeated Real Estelí 2-1 on Wednesday at BMO Field in their first-leg match of the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round.
The Reds looked headed for an easy, convincing victory after Plata's brace, but conceded an invaluable away goal to their Nicaraguan visitors off a goalkeeping error by Milos Kocic nine minutes from time that gives Estelí a glimmer of hope heading into the second leg next week.
Toronto created a handful of chances in the first half, largely through an effective combination of Nick Soolsma and Ryan Johnson, but were unable to convert.
Plata replaced Gianluca Zavarise in the 49th minute and made an impression almost immediately as ‘keeper Carlos Mendieta was forced to deal with his right-footed speculative ball from just outside the box.
But the diminutive Ecuadorean did score in the 56th minute, working the ball just inside the left side of the six-yard box and, from a difficult angle, tucked his left-footed shot into the lower left side.
TFC kept up the pressure and Mendieta saved a Johnson header from the center of the box to the lower left corner from a pass by Soolsma in the 64th minute.
Plata scored again eight minutes later, after Matthew Stinson was dragged down by Franklin López in the 71st minute. The 19-year-old stepped up to take the free kick, and put his right foot onto a brilliant effort in the minute from outside the center of the box and into the left corner of the goal.
Toronto appeared headed for a 2-0 victory, but Kocic coughed up the ball to the left of his goal in the 81st minute and Alesandro Calero scored easily into the right corner for the important away goal for Real Estelí.
Kocic was starting in goal for Toronto for the first time this season in place of Stefan Frei, who had played every minute of every game and had a hand injury.
TFC now take their slim one-goal advantage down to Nicaragua for the second leg on August 2 after a swing through Portland for a league match on Saturday.
The winner of the two-leg series lands a spot in Group C of the Champions League along with Pumas UNAM of Mexico, Tauro FC of Panama and the winner of the FC Dallas-Alianza preliminary series.
TOR -- Joao Plata 56'
TOR -- Joao Plata 72'
RES -- Alesandro Calero 80'
TOR -- Gianluca Zavarise (caution) 45'
RES -- Jamie Ruiz (caution) 59'
RES -- Francisco López (caution) 71'
TOR -- Torsten Frings (caution) 75'
Toronto FC -- Milos Kocic, Andy Iro, Doneil Henry, Ashtone Morgan, Ryan Johnson (Javier Martina 78'), Danny Koevermans, Matthew Stinson (Julian de Guzman 73'), Nick Soolsma, Torsten Frings, Richard Eckersley, Gianluca Zavarise (Joao Plata 49')
Substitutes Not Used: Stefan Frei, Ty Harden, Danleigh Borman, Eddy Viator
Real Estelí -- Carlos Mendieta, Elmer Mejía, Salvador García, Eliud Zeledón, Franklin López, Manuel Rosas, Francisco López, Samuel Wilson (Wilber Sánchez 90'), Félix Rodríguez, Jamie Ruiz (Marlon Medina 88), José Flores (Alesandro Calero 62)
Substitutes Not Used: Justo Lorento, David Martínez, Elvis Figueroa
Referee: Ricardo Salazar
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry, Eric Boria
4th Official: Edwin Jurisevic