TORONTO – For Toronto FC, who arrived in Torreón, Mexico, on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday night’s CONCACAF Champions League second leg clash against Santos Laguna (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com), the task is straight-forward: Get the right result.
They managed to survive a rough first, tying los Guerreros 1-1 at BMO Field last week. But the Reds have struggled in league play, and heading into Mexico to get a result may be may a be straight-forward task, but it certainly isn’t a simple one.
“We have to be aware of everything, we can expect everything,” head coach Aron Winter said Monday after training.
The Reds face a huge challenge. Despite becoming the first Canadian club to reach the CCL semifinals and the last MLS side standing in the competition this year, they are winless in their first three league games, including a 1-0 loss at home to Columbus this past Saturday.
Santos, meanwhile, lead the Mexican League with a 9-2-2 record and are undefeated at home this season. They beat Toluca 3-1 on Sunday for their fifth consecutive league victory.
“We have to play like we played against LA,” goalkeeper Milos Kocic said, referencing TFC’s 4-3 aggregate win over the MLS Cup champs in the CCL quarterfinals. “Keep the lines tight and don’t let them play through the middle. Let them cross the ball because they’re not very good in the air. I think we should play the way Columbus played us, don’t give them space through the middle because they’re very tricky, they have good runners behind the defenders. That can really hurt us if we spread the lines.”
Straight-forward, but not simple. Santos, after all, beat the Seattle Sounders 6-1 in Torreón in to reach the semifinals – an epic defeat for a club that then turned around and beat TFC three days later.
“It was one of those games where Seattle had some chances, too, but they got spread so wide open and Santos did a good job of finishing their chances,” Toronto forward Ryan Johnson said. “They don’t stop moving, so if we don’t follow our runners guys are going to get behind. We’ve got to kind of drop our line a little bit, don’t keep it so high because they have guys who can get in behind like the last game. That’s how their goal happened.”
In addition to holding their shape, the Reds will also need to hold their temper. The first leg was ill-tempered, and the bad blood continued after the final whistle when TFC’s Ashtone Morgan was head-butted. Two Santos players – attacker Darwin Quintero and defender Osmar Mares – saw red on the evening.
Winter, a former Dutch international, is anticipating some more gamesmanship from the Mexican side and has told his players to stay focused.
“Of course, you know those things are going to happen,” Winter said. “I think it’s going to happen more than they showed last week when they played here. ... You can expect everything and everybody has to be prepared for it.”