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CCL | TFC 2012

Plus ça change…

Plus c’est la même chose

Think back to the spring of this year. It was the era of Aron Winter. The Reds showed real Champion’s League bravado. And the spectacle of MLS sucking began. Looking back it all now, it is amazing how much has changed for Toronto FC. And, it’s crazy too how just about nothing has changed.

Rotations of personnel are nothing new for the Reds. And even accounting for the ebb and flow of a few individuals, there is a solid core of players that have been together all season. Thus far, the only arena that has been successful for these guys has been the CONCACAF Champion’s League.

Given their league struggles, it was shocking to me that TFC still managed to best Vancouver and Montreal for a return to the Champion’s League. Yet they did. And here they are, ready to fight for an opportunity to advance beyond the preliminaries.

Thus, tonight, the return of the Mexican diving team – Santos Laguna – brings the season full circle. This match is the Reds best, and only, shot at creating something inspiring for 2012. It could be a merciful distraction from this utterly demoralizing MLS season.

It seems the last version of this contest left a lasting impression on the divers in green and white. The hot-headed finish to the match at BMO in the spring seems to have set the tone for this contest. Hallelujah for that. Could this drama be any better? Taunts in the press. Swagger and attitude on every level.

Last time around, TFC couldn’t hold off the Guerreros on the Mexico leg of the home-away contest. A win tonight, however, would be a big statement, and a huge advantage on the return leg of these qualifiers.

Santos Laguna, Part Two

TFC will have to rise well above their tepid performances over the past few weeks. The Mariner honeymoon ended rather quickly this summer, and ever since it’s been a dreary slump of futility. Lately, I’ve been wondering if Mariner really has anything to offer over the ousted Winter.

The formation changed. There was a short rebound of fortune and form. Then Koevermans tore his knee apart. TFC hasn’t looked the same since.

The Reds best chance tonight will be having Eric Hassli back in the line-up. His muscle, height and attitude will surely drive SL’s defenders mad. Without him, the odds of holding off the Mexicans will drop considerably.

In the big picture, tonight will be a litmus test of where things stand under the new regime. It is unclear to me that the 4-4-2 Mariner favours, with its dependence on a punt and run attack, will create enough offense for TFC to stay in the match. The other test, of course, is whether Darren O’Dea will be able to pull together the Reds defence. Even with O’Dea’s recent presence, the Reds defending has remained porous and inconsistent.

Sneaky are the SL forwards, and they will eviscerate the back line if TFC give them the chance. The Reds will have to close down their opponents space to run and gun in the midfield. Otherwise, it will be a short contest. Even a one goal lead for the visitors will be hard to best once they settle back to defend.

Herculez Gomez has been taunting the Reds in the press, and his equalizing goal at BMO last time was just the kind of thing we should expect the Mexicans to try repeatedly tonight. With room to move, SL will test the TFC back line with probing diagonal through balls and cheeky cutting runs up the middle. If the past several weeks of MLS play are the standard, the odds favour Gomez’s taunts and arrogance.

Prediction:

TFC  1  –  1  Santos Laguna

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