Toronto FC vs. Santos Laguna
BMO Field, Toronto, Ontario
CONCACAF Champions League Group
August 28, 2012
8 pm ET, FOX Soccer, Sportsnet One
Home win vital
On Saturday, Toronto FC left Houston with an away point in MLS despite resting several regulars. On Tuesday, the Reds feel they must get all three points when up against Santos Laguna in group play of the CONCACAF Champions League.
"I think in cup competitions, it's very important you do well at home," new center back Darren O'Dea stated after training on Monday. Both Toronto and Santos are off to flying starts in CCL with five-goal performances against the third team in Group 1, CD Águila. Toronto beat the Salvadoran outfit 5-1 at BMO Field, while Santos blanked them at the Corona 5-0. This sets up a first-place showdown between the Canadian and Mexican champions who will play in Toronto on Tuesday, then in Torreón, Mexico, on October 24.
With Torsten Frings rested against Houston, O'Dea took up the captain's armband. On defense, the new backline leader was a tremendous presence against a typically physical top MLS side, helping to hold them from double-digit set-pieces. Going forward, O'Dea set up Terry Dunfield's equalizer in the 1-1 draw. Against Santos, described as "a very talented team" by the Irishman, O'Dea knows Toronto must do even more. "We'll be right up against it," he said. "[Tuesday] is a massive game for us, could decide which way we go in the Champions League."
Getting another go
WATCH: Breaking down the CCL rematch with Santos
O'Dea's work has been universally praised, none more so than by Toronto goalkeeper Freddy Hall. The Bermuda number one seems to be the first option for the Reds in goal now, scheduled to make his third straight — and first in Champions League — start on Tuesday.
"Darren's a quality player," Hall told the media gathered Monday at the Reds' Kia Training Ground at Downsview Park. "Him, Richie [Eckersley], their experience alone in front of me makes it so much easier for me to play."
As to the choice between himself or Milos Kocic in goal, Hall sees it as a positive development for Toronto and he is happy to live with the manager's final word either way. "It's good competition for both of us, the gaffer makes the decision and we just have to go with it."
Back to the matter of containing a powerful Santos Laguna, Hall makes the team objective quite clear.
"A clean sheet is definitely what we want," the 'keeper said.
Drawing from a combative defensive performance in Houston, Hall believes Toronto is "making the right steps toward" this aspiration.
Back in business?
When Toronto opened their CCL campaign on August 1 against Águila, newly acquired striker Eric Hassli watched from the touch line. Toronto chose not to risk the player coming off an ankle injury and a five-goal performance made his exclusion moot. Hassli was rested again on Saturday, this time due to back spasms.
The Frenchman has settled into the Toronto squad with a goal and a pair of helpers from four starts. He feels he has recovered well enough to take part on Tuesday.
"I feel way better," Hassli said. "It's going to be a new experience for me, I'm looking forward to playing."
Should Hassli be deemed fit enough to return, his size could make a difference against a small, pacy Santos team that has shown discomfort against physical players.
"It's going to be tough because they are quick, skilled, play very good soccer," he said. "We have to score, just win the game for us, our fans, we have to win on our field."
A must win
"We've gotta win," a succinct head coach Paul Mariner exclaimed on Monday.
The coach revealed his goalkeeper for the CCL fixture, but Mariner didn't commit to wholesale changes in the lineup from Saturday, only hinting that Frings could be in his plans and asserting that Hassli will only play if he is fit. Toronto went into the weekend with additional injuries to defender Doneil Henry and midfielders Reggie Lambe and Matt Stinson. All three players are usually in Mariner's 18-man roster. Fullback Ashtone Morgan received a rest, coming off the bench late in Houston.
"I liken this to an European tie," Mariner continued, complimenting the Mexican opponents, saying they have an "abundance of good players, guys coming out of the Olympics with a gold medal ... international players that played an enormous number of games at a high level."
The combination of Santos' talent and the rash of injuries Toronto has suffered is a concern. However, Mariner and his players feel the squad gave a good enough account of itself in Houston that the Reds can build on it to bolster their Champions League hopes in a must-win match.