TORONTO – Toronto FC forward Ryan Johnson is bracing for war against Santos Laguna.
With a trip to the CONCACAF Champions League final at stake at Estadio Corona in Torreón on Wednesday night (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com) combined with warnings issued by los Guerreros, Toronto FC aren’t expecting anything short of an epic battle.
“It’s going to happen,” Johnson said after training at BMO Field on Monday in preparation for the second semifinal leg. “I believe it 100 percent. They’re just not joking around when they say [it’s going to be a war].”
Santos’ warnings regarding the return match in Mexico and the birth of the “war” narrative came after last Wednesday’s hard-fought 1-1 draw at BMO Field in the first leg ended in a bench-clearing melee.
HIGHLIGHTS: TFC 1, CSL 1
Johnson said he heard the word "war" from the Santos side as the teams were coming off the pitch as well as in the tunnel, dialog that included other word that Johnson didn’t want to repeat.
“It’s the heat of the moment,” he said. “But it’s heat of the moment that they’re making a promise that’s how it’s going to be when we’re down there.”
Santos had two players given red cards in Toronto. Osmar Mares was sent off in the 77th minute for his tackle on Richard Eckersley, and Darwin Quintero was shown red at the end of the game after Toronto’s Ashtone Morgan went down from a head butt. That event sparked a shoving match between both sides.
“[Quintero] and Ashtone were going back and forth at it from the first few minutes of the game,” Johnson said. “Ashtone put a good tackle in on him, let him know that he was there. That sort of thing escalates to the end. That’s what happened in the end, a guy is frustrated that he’s not having the kind of night that he wanted against Ashtone.”
Johnson said that he was hoping for a “fair referee” and added that Toronto players will have to protect themselves.
“You can expect anything is going to happen,” he said. “Elbows, late tackles, late kicks, guys stomping on your legs, things like that are going to happen. I’m prepared for it, but there’s no need for any broken legs or anything like that. Guys have to know the tackles are coming and keep an eye out for guys coming from their blind side because it’s going to happen, so just jump over them.”
Warnings aside, Johnson said he and his teammates fully respect Santos’ quality, especially since the Mexican club recovered from a 2-1 loss in the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal in Seattle before pounding the Sounders 6-1 in the second leg in Torreón.
Santos will have to do without Mares and Quintero on Wednesday because of suspension.
Toronto head coach Aron Winter wouldn’t reveal his lineup, but Johnson will probably take the central striker spot of striker Danny Koevermans, who is suspended because of yellow-card accumulation.
Defender Miguel Aceval, who scored the tying goal in the first leg before leaving with a hamstring injury, is expected to play. Forward Reggie Lambe, who missed Saturday’s 1-0 league loss to Columbus with flu, will make the trip, as will defender Adrian Cann, who played the first half of the Reserve League game on Saturday, his first competitive action since returning from knee surgery performed last July.