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TFC hope lessons learned after late collapse vs. Santos

TORONTO – Toronto FC defender Richard Eckersley calls Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Santos Laguna in a CONCACAF Champions League group match a “learning experience.”

The Reds will have a chance to show just how much and how quickly they learned Saturday when they play Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park (8:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online).

Toronto appeared to set for a 1-1 draw with Santos, but the Mexican side scored in the 90th and 92nd minutes to earn the victory.

“It’s consistency and we’re not doing it, I’m afraid,” Eckersley said after Thursday’s training at Downsview Park. “It was a massive game for us Tuesday night and coming from 1-0 down and getting to 1-1 and to lose it by two goals at the end of the game it’s very disappointing. And to do it the way we did as well by little mistakes, by not clearing our lines properly.”

Sporting Kansas City (14-7-5) also provide a difficult test for Toronto (5-15-6). The Eastern Conference leaders have beaten TFC twice this year by a combined 3-0.

The most recent defeat, 1-0 at BMO Field, was another late-game heartbreaker. Kei Kamara’s shot off a free kick in the 83rd minute deflected off the wall and eluded goalkeeper Milos Kocic.

“Someone leaves the wall and all of a sudden they score on a deflected free kick and you get beat 1-0 at home,” Canadian international midfielder Terry Dunfield said. “That was tough to swallow.”

Regardless, TFC boss Paul Mariner expects little variation from SKC’s approach.

“It’ll be the same stuff,” he said. “Kamara is a massive threat outside and [midfielder Graham] Zusi is a very technical player. [C.J.] Sapong is an Eric Hassli-type of player, very good in the air, a good target man and holds the ball up well.”

Eckersley is wary of whatever starting team Kansas City use.

“They’ve got massive depth,” Eckersley said. “Whoever steps in is going to be a threat. We’re not going to have a day off by any means. We’ve just got to be on our game and on our front foot constantly.”

And they’ll have to do it for a full 90 minutes. Keeping teams off the board down the stretch comes down to one thing, in Mariner’s mind: Playing smart, simple soccer.

“Possession, out of possession, in possession,” Mariner said. “Determination to get it back. Tempo. If in doubt get it out, it’s such an old adage.

“There’s no shame in that, it’s just a way of winning football matches or keeping yourself in football matches.”

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