Written by Alex Robb and Photos by Sean Chin
Toronto Fc are playing on the international stage in the CONCACAF Champions League. This is a competition, seperate from the domestic Major League Soccer, wherein champion club teams from nations all over North America compete. The winner of this season’s CONCACAF Champions League qualifies for the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, where the victor of each continental champions league competes. Past participants have included Manchester United and Barcelona. This global exposure would be great for the club and offers benefits for the development of the sport in Canada. The CONCACAF Champions League should be looked at as an opportunity for Toronto FC who have, otherwise, experienced a dismal season in Major League Soccer, currently last place in the Eastern Conference standings.
With high chances of missing the Major League Soccer playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, coach Aron Winter needs to concentrate on Champions League group stage play, a position they achieved after winning the Nutrilite Canadian Championship and beating out Real Esteli of Nicaragua in the Champions League preliminary round. On Wednesday night, playing their second of six group stage matches, Toronto was gifted a chance to redeem themselves upon falling 1-0 at half-time to opponent FC Dallas. A rain and lightning delay led to a cancellation of the game and an evacuation of BMO Field and the fixture was reset for Thursday morning at 10:15 am with the Wednesday score nullified. Still, Toronto could not capitalize on their good fortune. FC Dallas came near to scoring in the first-half most noticeably with captain Daniel Hernandez’ missed kick on a penalty shot. A Jack Stewart header just before half-time provided the one goal difference for an FC Dallas victory.Although they had the shots and ball possession, Toronto could never capitalize on their chances. Getting past the FC Dallas defence proved a daunting task. An unlikely tie late Thursday between other group members Pumas UNAM of Mexico and FC Tauro of Panama means Toronto is now in second place behind only Dallas where the top two from each group will advance. In their third group stage match, Toronto will travel to Mexico to play Pumas where a win or tie could assist in the passage beyond the group stage and into the quarter-finals. CONCACAF quarter-final play begins in February 2012. While qualification to the quarter-final round will likely see higher attendance and increased team publicity, the challenge of advancing rests on the Toronto FC players’ shoulders. Other fixture results, opponent play, and weather have been on Toronto’s side (the Nutrilite Canadian championship final was also abandoned in Toronto’s favour). Now, Toronto FC needs to take advantage of those opportunities given to it.