CCL Preview: TFC stare down tall task at Santos Laguna
Santos Laguna vs. Toronto FC
Estadio Corona, Torreón, Mexico
CONCACAF Champions League Group 1
October 24, 2012
8 pm ET, FOX Soccer, Sportsnet World
TFC Injury Report:
- OUT: GK Stefan Frei (L lower leg)
- FW Danny Koevermans (L knee ACL tear); DF Ty Harden (lower abdominal strain); MF Torsten Frings (L hip); FW Keith Makubuya (L ankle sprain); FW Quincy Amarikwa (L hamstring strain); DF Darren O’Dea (R quadriceps strain)
- DOUBTFUL: DF Logan Emory (R shoulder sprain)
- QUESTIONABLE: MF Matt Stinson (R quadriceps strain)
Hassli out, Johnson in
The final group stage match of the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League for Toronto FC will see the Reds revisit Estadio Corona in Torreón, Mexico, on Wednesday night to face Santos Laguna.
Toronto will be desperate for goals in this final Group 1 encounter, having lost to Santos Laguna 3-1 at home. In order to finish above Santos head-to-head, the Reds will require a 3-0 win, or any two-goal victory with a minimum of four goals scored will also do the trick. It's a tall order in the best of times, but head coach Paul Mariner arrives in Torreón without the services of several starters, including his only fit Designated Player, forward Eric Hassli. The Frenchman remains in Toronto attending to his newborn child.
"They've got some very good players, obviously it's going to be difficult,” Mariner told Toronto FC TV before the Reds departed for Mexico. "We are not going to have Hassli with us, Ryan will come in.”
The addition of Johnson will provide a lift to the team after it was kept off the score sheet Saturday in a 0-0 draw against Montreal while he was suspended.
WATCH: Eckersley on how to slow down Santos
Solidifying the back
A format change in the present edition of CCL now requires teams to win their group in order to advance to the quarterfinals. Previously, two teams would emerge from each group. In the 2011-12 campaign, Toronto were in a similar position, then arriving in Dallas with nearly a full squad, delivering an emphatic 3-0 victory to finish second in the group, on way to beating the LA Galaxy and becoming the first Canadian team to reach the Champions League semifinals.
That semifinal ended poorly for Toronto in the second leg visit to Estadio Corona. The Reds were 45 minutes away from reaching the Champions League finals on away goals, having held Santos to a 2-2 draw in the opening 45 minutes and 3-3 on aggregate. The Mexican outfit pressed for four goals — including two from the penalty spot — in the second half to see Toronto off 6-2 (7-3 on aggregate).
Remembering that loss, Toronto players will be respectful of Santos' quality, the element of altitude and their own limitations.
"We've gotta keep it solid at the back, get a good base and we can go from there," said defender Richard Eckersley.
On Saturday, defender Logan Emory became the latest man to join a lengthy injury list. Eckersley finished the match with Adrian Cann partnering him in central defense, the two will pair up again according to Mariner, with backline leader Darren O'Dea nursing a thigh injury.
WATCH: Silva on how TFC can pull it off
On the topic of scoring goals, aside from Johnson, rookie Luis Silva will be counted on to provide a spark. Any chance Toronto has to surprise Santos will require some invention from the more offensive minded talents such as Johnson, Silva, Eric Avila and Reggie Lambe.
"We just have to believe in each other, play for 90 minutes and hope to get a good result,” Silva said on Friday.
He commented on the size of the pitch at Estadio Corona and that the Reds know too well how Santos likes to use space to their advantage. Toronto will want to remain compact and push forward whenever there is an opening. One thing every Toronto attacker knows for certain is that they must finish their chances.
Santos lost to Toluca 4-1 on Sunday and are winless in three matches. But midfielder Terry Dunfield isn't fooled by the current form of the Green-and-White, calling them one of the best teams on this side of the planet. When the teams met in Toronto, the Reds had largely contained Santos for 89 minutes until conceding twice in the final moments, leading the current group-stage predicament.
"You need to stay as a team, as soon as you get spread they can pick you apart,” Dunfield continued in addressing Toronto's approach to the match.
The Canadian international was named the club's most valuable player for the 2012 season and will captain TFC on Wednesday night.