TORONTO – The skirmish that ended the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal on Wednesday at BMO Field only echoed the realization that 90-plus minutes on the field produced: This one’s pretty interesting after all.
Toronto FC once again embraced the underdog role perfectly and played their best game in weeks in the series opener, a gritty 1-1 draw against Santos Laguna that now puts the onus on the series finale on April 4 in Torreón, Mexico.
“Yes, a big difference is that today we were really a team,” TFC head coach Aron Winter said in the postgame press conference. “And I thought also that if we play like this, like a team we play very well. That’s the big difference.”
The draw was a marked improvement from Toronto’s last two times out in league play, which led to a decisive loss in Seattle and, in last weekend’s home opener, a 3-0 thumping to the San Jose Earthquakes.
But they nearly pulled off a win in the opening leg on Wednesday, fueled by a goal from defender Miguel Aceval and some guile they showed during a win over the LA Galaxy in the CCL quarterfinals that some may have thought was a thing of the past.
“I think that a draw is not bad result, but we deserved more,” Winter said. “We had opportunities to make two goals. They scored from nothing at that moment when we were not sharp. I think a victory would have been good, but a draw is also good.”
And as for that scrum at the end of the game, it wasn’t pretty, but it may have galvanized TFC heading into the do-or-die finale.
Toronto FC defender Ashtone Morgan was left writhing on the pitch after taking a head butt during the fracas, and both benches cleared after the final whistle.
Winter condemned the incident and added that “it’s not good for football,” but this much is clear about Wednesday’s opener: TFC took the first punch, and got right back up. They'll get their chance to land a knockout punch next week in Mexico.