TORREÓN, Mexico – It was another case of so near yet so far for an MLS team in the CONCACAF Champions League.
On Wednesday evening in the Estadio Corona, Toronto FC looked capable of pulling off a famous win for much of the game, until defensive slip-ups, borderline refereeing decisions and an incisive and talented Santos Laguna all combined to create a 6-2 score line in the teams’ semifinal series finale.
“They made six goals, but actually we gave away four, and that makes it hard because I think that we played well,” bemoaned a distraught-looking TFC head coach Aron Winter in the postgame press conference.
The Dutchman refused to suggest that having the experienced and vital trio of Danny Koevermans, Torsten Frings and Stefan Frei would've made a difference, instead pointing to the timing of Santos' goals and the lunge by Julian de Guzman that led to the converted penalty to hand Santos Laguna a 3-2 lead in the 55th minute.
“The second and third goals were crucial at that moment because at 1-0 and then 2-1 against a good opponent, we were playing well,” he said. “If you go in leading 2-1 at that moment … the penalty was not smart.”
Winter also believed the second penalty for Santos, a handball by Miguel Aceval, was dubious, at a time when he felt Toronto was still in the game.
“After the 3-2, it was a very crucial moment and then they gave the second penalty, you are going to try to force [the play] and there will be a lot of spaces,” Winter said.
TFC's Terry Dunfield was disappointed with the defeat but preferred to stress the positives of a historic run in the competition – as the first Canadian side to reach the semis.
“We'll definitely take heart from that,” he said. “I thought the boys battled tremendously well, but unfortunately didn't have enough left in the tank.”
Dunfield added that whether the first penalty should've been given or not, the important thing is not to give the referee the decision to make in the first place.
“I think when you come to places like this, you need to stand on your feet and not to give the ref the opportunity to make the decision,” he said.
Nick Soolsma also pointed to the goal from Santos striker Herculez Gomez before halftime as the “breaking point of the game,” but insisted that the team has to move on, starting with this weekend's game against Montreal.
“We have to focus on the league now, that's what we have,” Soolsma said. “I'm very disappointed at this moment, but we have to focus on the next game.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org