TORONTO – Paul Mariner said he has nothing against black cats, omens or otherwise.
“No, I’ve got a black cat at home, I love black cats,” the Toronto FC head coach said. “And for the record, it’s a she and her name is Stuart, named after Stuart Pearce [a former England international like Mariner].
It just so happens that a black cat did run onto the pitch at BMO Field on Tuesday during the second half of Toronto FC’s CONCACAF Champions League group-stage match against Santos Laguna.
The cat scurried in front of the Toronto goal before find its way back into the seating area.
And soon after, TFC gave up two goals. The first came in the 90th minute and the second came in stoppage time, combining to give Santos Laguna a 3-1 victory and control of the three-team group.
Mariner absolved the black cat of any role in bringing bad luck. But he was not so easy on his team for creating their own misfortune when it appeared they were going to come away with at least a 1-1 draw.
“There’s nowhere near that was a 3-1 game,” Mariner said. “I thought we were a little tentative the first half. I thought the second half we were much better. They’re a very good team and we matched them for 89 minutes.”
He said even when Santos went ahead in the 90th minute, there was still time to salvage something.
“The third goal, people were getting over excited, diving in,” he said. “No need to dive in, just get in front of your man. Maybe it’s fatigue, I don’t know.”
Torsten Frings, a former German international, was guilty of diving in before Santos’ third goal.
“From my viewpoint, it’s just annoying and frustrating,” Mariner said. “The game is never over and 2-1 is not a done deal even though in 99 percent of the people’s minds it was.
“At 2-1 you can still get something. When we’re throwing the ball in the box, we were always getting something. They were panicking and smashing it out. I just wanted us playing the same way we did for 89 minutes, which wasn’t bad.
“But I don’t like people diving in because if I dive in, it makes a problem for my teammates and that’s irresponsible. I don’t appreciate it.”
Nobody in Toronto will appreciate that the defeat comes at the hands of the same side that sealed their semifinal exit a year ago or the fact that their fate will now be decided in Torreón and San Miguel [Águila's home city].
They’ll have to make those trips with the knowledge that they left a point behind and gifted two to Santos in just a few minutes time.
“It’s very disappointing,” Mariner said. “It wasn’t a 3-1 game. No way.”