Mission impossible proved to be just that for Toronto FC.
Needing to win by more than two goals to advance from the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, the Reds bowed out of the competition with a 1-0 loss to Santos Laguna at Estadio Corona in Torreón, Mexico, on Wednesday.
But Toronto gave it a good try and created enough chances in the first half to make the home side – playing with only three regulars – a little nervous.
TFC’s chances, however faint, disappeared in the 73rd minute when US national teamer Herculez Gomez volleyed a stunner past TFC ‘keeper Freddy Hall to give Santos the edge they needed.
The Liga MX club finishes atop Group 1 with an unblemished 4-0-0 record that included a 3-1 win at Toronto on Aug. 28. TFC, who were eliminated by Santos back in April at the semifinal stage of the 2011-12 CCL, finished at 2-2-0.
If los Guerreros thought they were going to have an easy time of it on Wednesday, the Reds had them thinking otherwise soon into the game, which began at a sprightly pace.
Just six minutes in, Ryan Johnson broke behind the defense, but put his shot right at goalkeeper Miguel Becerra. Nine minutes later, Johnson again had a good look, but put his header wide.
Santos were on the attack two minutes later and Jorge Estrada forced a save from Freddy Hall. But Toronto answered back. In the 18th minute, Jeremy Hall put in a ball over to the top to Reggie Lambe, whose shot from the right side of the box was saved by Becerra.
The closest chance to break the tie came from the hosts in the 44th minute, when Darwin Quintero rattled the left post on a free kick.
But the first 45 seemed to be all the momentum Toronto could muster as Santos came out of the break on the offensive. Hall was quickly forced to make a save on another free kick from Quintero to the top left corner. Santos continued their onslaught with Gomez and Rafael Figueroa putting headers just wide in attempts about one minute apart.
The breakthrough finally came with 17 minutes to play. Gomez took a pass off his chest and volleyed a right-footed laser past Hall into the upper right corner of the net for his first goal in the 2012-13 CCL.
Toronto FC now return to finish out their 2012 MLS regular reason on Sunday at Columbus.