Nick Dasovic knows all too well what it’s like to play in Mexico.
After all, he witnessed his share of humbling losses over a 12-year playing career with the Canadian National Team when facing Mexico in World Cup qualifiers at Estadio Azteca.
So he knew what he was doing when, now as Toronto FC's interim head coach, he decided to employ a defensive counterattack to deal with Cruz Azul in their CONCACAF Champions League match Tuesday at Estadio Azul.
It’s also an effective strategy to deal with the altitude, heat and pollution that can cripple teams there, especially in the second half.
Winning on Mexican soil takes not only discipline, but a total team effort. Just ask the other MLS clubs, none of whom have never won in Mexico and have only three draws in 19 matches in CONCACAF tournament action to show for their efforts.
What Tuesday night’s scoreless draw did against the hottest team in the Primera División was not only show Dasovic’s coaching acumen, but instill his players with some much-needed confidence.
RECAP: Cruz Azul 0, Toronto FC 0
Confidence in holding a top offense scoreless, in taking a point away on the road amid difficult conditions and playing relatively well despite key starters on the bench to start.
On top of that, Toronto did something no other team in their CCL group has been able to do: keep Javier Orozco off the score sheet. The young striker has been a terror this season, scoring 10 times in four Champions League matches and six goals in eight domestic-league games.
It wasn’t too long ago that TFC were mired in a six-game winless streak that threatened to spiral them out of the MLS playoff picture. Though goals are still scarce, the results from the last two games under Dasovic have made his players believe they can rise to the occasion.
[inline_node:318928]That’s key when a comeback is needed, as was the case against Houston last Saturday, or in a big performance against one of the top clubs in CONCACAF.
It’s the collective confidence from these two efforts that will be especially important when TFC face San Jose on Saturday at BMO Field in likely the biggest game of their MLS season.
Toronto sit in ninth place in the overall MLS table, five points behind San Jose (who are even with Seattle) for the final playoff spot.
It’s the proverbial six-pointer, but is even bigger since the Earthquakes have a game in hand. A loss and Toronto would fall to eight points back with just four games left, likely making the playoffs a pipe dream.
If the Reds are to rebound to claim a spot in the postseason, they'll need contributions from everyone on the team. By giving the bench a chance to play in an important game Tuesday, Dasovic gave everyone a chance to experience the feeling of accomplishment.
Every player, starter or substitute, knows he needs to be ready to play and contribute when called upon.
It’s safe to assume Dwayne De Rosario, Maicon Santos, Chad Barrett and Dan Gargan will anchor the team. But Raivis Hscanovics, Jacob Peterson and even youngster Nicholas Lindsay all contributed to the huge result in Mexico City.
It’s a lot easier when players have the experience of contributing to an important result. That will make the potential of a late-season TFC rally for that final MLS playoff spot that much more credible.