Toronto FC’s 2-1 victory in the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round on Tuesday over Real Estelí in Nicaragua showed head coach Aron Winter that his club is improving, but not yet where he wants it to be.
The win pushed TFC into Group C of the tournament, giving them a chance to make amends for getting bounced from the group stage last year.
“If you are playing an away game against an opponent that is very difficult, and if you know the circumstances — long travel with a long ride — and then how the team responded, a big compliment,” Winter said. “It’s not easy to win those games away from home.
“We are not still there,” he added, “but the beginning is there.”
The victory on a poor pitch at Estadio Independencia in Estelí came after a lengthy trip that first took the Reds to Portland on Saturday, where they scored two late goals to earn a 2-2 regular-season draw with the Timbers.
“This was huge, you know,” midfielder Matt Stinson said. “At the end of a long road trip, we have a tie and a win. This win getting us into the group stage of CONCACAF, I think it’s great.”
The win, however, also adds six matches to the team’s schedule and more travel.
“I think it’s going to take a team effort,” Stinson said. “Everybody is going to have to do their part to get through this.”
Winger Ryan Johnson, meanwhile, was the hero of the win, with a left-footed volley into the top right corner of the net in the 37th minute and a second goal on a poor clearance by 'keeper Carlos Mendieta just minutes into the second half.
“The first one’s a good setup by Peri [Marosevic],” Johnson said, “and I hit it first-time and got hold of it well. The second one was a gift from the 'keeper and I just took my time and placed it in the corner.
“I’m proud of the team,” he added. “I thought we that we fought hard. We did a good job of handling their pressure and at the end of the day, we put away our chances and we advance to the next round.”
Johnson came to Toronto FC in a July 14 trade with San Jose, one of three swaps the club made in two days. The Reds have added 10 players in slightly more than a month.
“It’s good for us that we came here and we just didn’t tie — we won the game,” Johnson said. “We fought hard for each other. It’s a game where you build each other’s trust.”