TORONTO – Toronto FC's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal game against Santos Laguna on Wednesday at BMO Field is important on many levels for MLS, Canada and the city of Toronto.
Toronto FC are the first Canadian team to reach the semifinals of the CCL, and they're also are the last MLS team left in the competition.
“It means a lot,” Toronto FC’s director of player development Paul Mariner told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “It means a lot to Major League Soccer. All it can do is grow the game.”
The former England international used the first game of Toronto’s quarterfinal against the LA Galaxy as an example of what CCL means to the city. More than 47,000 fans turned up for the match at the Rogers Centre to show the huge fan base present in Toronto.
“I think you can see what’s happening up in Canada,” Mariner said. “We sold out the Rogers Centre. To sell out an arena of [nearly] 50,000 is quite something. We’ve almost sold out Wednesday evening. We only had a two-week turn around to advertise. So the public are responding in droves really to what’s happening, we want to put on a good show for the country and our league.”
The first leg against LA ended 2-2, but a week later Toronto advanced to the semifinals with a 2-1 victory over the Galaxy in Carson, Calif.
Mariner remembers sending best wishes to Real Salt Lake when they reached the CCL final last year. Now he said Toronto FC are receiving words of support from across the MLS.
“We’re rivals but we’re a very close-knit group,” Mariner said. “It’s important that we go as far as we possibly can.”