Toronto FC know their trip to Nicaragua to close out their home-and-home CONCACAF Champions League play-in series against Real Estelí will be far from a walk in the park on Tuesday (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
One player in particular — TFC winger Ryan Johnson — has a good idea of what awaits. Acquired in a trade with on July 14 with San Jose, the Jamaican international has plenty of CONCACAF experience under his belt.
“I know exactly what to expect,” he said. “It’s going to be a hostile atmosphere. The field is going to be terrible. The heat, the humidity is going to be tough.”
The Reds, who advanced to the CCL group stage last year, beat the “Northern Express” 2-1 at BMO Field last Wednesday to take a lead into the second leg of the preliminary-round series.
“We would rather be going into that game in a 2-0, 3-0 type of situation, but we’re not,” Johnson said. “It’s 2-1. We’ve got to make sure we don’t get scored on, that’s the No. 1 thing defensively. We’re a better team. We should take that kind of confidence and say, ‘Hey, we’re just going to be able to beat them and not worry about the results and the atmosphere and those things.’”
Toronto had a wide advantage in play in the first match and, by their own account, should have won by more than a goal. Real Estelí’s late tally was the result of a mistake from backup ‘keeper Milos Kocic, who was playing his first match of the season, and a superb performance from the Nicaraguan club’s own netminder, Carlos Mendieta, allowed them to stay in the game.
“Their ‘keeper made some good saves just off my headers themselves,” Johnson said. “Hats off to him. Those are chances that we should be creating — and we are. And it’s great and sometimes those chances are going to fall.”
Still, Johnson said he is certain TFC will make it into the group stage of the tournament.
“If we don’t get the job done, I’ll be beyond disappointed,” he said. “I’ll be pretty angry. We definitely need to rally together, make sure we’re as tough as possible to beat them and take care of business.”
Dunfield looks forward to experience
As one of the many newcomers in the past few weeks to join Toronto FC, Terry Dunfield, feels the trip to Nicaragua, though tiring, can serve a purpose in team-bonding.
“These away trips are important,” the Canadian international said ahead of Tuesday’s away match. “We’re away now for a week and we go into Nicaragua under difficult circumstances so that will build relationships on and off the field, and we can see what players’ strengths are and their weaknesses.”
Before going to Nicaragua, Toronto were in Portland, where they scored two late goals to earn a 2-2 draw with the Timbers.
“To me, the biggest thing for developing that bond is results,” Dunfield said. “Nothing brings a team together better than positive results and seeing the system work. The only players that can do that are us.”
Dunfield was acquired from the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 14. He was with the Whitecaps when they lost the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final to Toronto on July 2 at BMO Field. Winning the Canadian title allowed TFC to advance to the preliminary round of the Champions League.
“I remember at the beginning of the season in Vancouver, [the Champions League] is something we set out to progress in and do well in,” Dunfield said. “It’s exciting times going into these unknown places and playing in some very difficult environments. Hopefully this will put me in good stead as well for international [competition] for Canada, going into these counties.”