TORONTO – Toronto FC played well for one-and-a-half games against Mexico’s Santos Laguna in their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal earlier this year, but it wasn’t enough – a four-goal barrage in the second half of the second leg condemned the Reds to a 7-3 aggregate loss.
Turns out, they will have a shot at revenge earlier than they might have imagined. On Tuesday, Toronto were drawn into Group 1 of the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League alongside the reigning Mexican champions and Salvadoran outfit CD Águila.
“Obviously, it’s a difficult draw,” Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “Probably the most difficult. But we’ll give it us our best shot, no two ways about it. If we can schedule correctly, I think we’ll have a chance although it’s extremely difficult.”
And Santos will certainly remember TFC. The teams played a hard-fought 1-1 draw in the first leg at BMO Field that ended in a skirmish between the teams and some threatening words from the Mexican team’s players.
Toronto played well in the first half of the second leg in Torreón and twice led by a goal. But Santos poured it on, capitalizing on mistakes to score two of their four second-half goals from the penalty spot.
“I think they’ll take us a little more seriously and obviously we’ll take them extremely seriously,” Mariner said. “It’s just another game that we need to win but it’s against top, top opposition. If you reflect on your playing days, it’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase your talents against really top quality players. It’s fantastic for TFC.”
Mariner took a positive apporach to the competition, rather than dwelling on the potential negatives: extra games and plenty of extra travel.
“I look at it the other way,” he said. “I think it’s very exciting. We want to grow the league, we want to have a good showing.”
Toronto have struggled in their league but have done better in other competitions, winning the Amway Canadian Championship to clinch a chance at repeating their run to the last four of the CCL. Mariner feels the discrepancy might have to do in the different styles of play Toronto face in each competition.
“The football is different,” Mariner said. “It’s a different style. MLS is highly athletic, technical, power, a very difficult league to play in. I think in the Champions League, you’ve got a little more time and space on the ball, they sort of drop off you a little bit. It’s just a different type of football.”