TFC 2012

When two tribes go to war

Santos v TFC

Relax, Don’t Do It

Press hyperbole has been at its most extreme for these CCL contests, so it’s hard to believe there was room to take it a notch higher. But that’s what Santos Laguna tried to do for the return leg tonight in Torreon, Mexico.

This past week began with Santos players issuing declarations of ‘WAR’ on Toronto FC. Apparently, they also felt the ‘crooked’ North American referee robbed them of a prize-winning performance for Mexico’s Got Diving Talent. And so, with this return to Mexico, the men who can’t stay on their feet will have their shot at vengeance.

Dubbing their stadium “the house of other people’s pain” is only partly metaphorical, because you can be sure it’s going to suck to be a visiting player on the pitch there tonight. And, in the hands of Honduran officials, this match is sure to be played with a more Latin flavour.

I imagine these referees will bring a healthy fear of the host’s supporters to their presence as well. Overall, it means lots of outrageous diving.

If history is any guidance, it will also feature a foul tally for Toronto FC on the wrong side of 20-30 calls against them. I would expect the boneless Guerreros will net 10 or so in return. There will likely be a bunch of cards shown to the Reds too, in multiples compared to any earned by their hosts.

If TFC are fortunate enough to emerge victorious, the card tallies could render more of the starting XI unavailable for the Final. In many ways, that would be a nice problem to have.

Jekyll & Hyde

Duncan Mitchell (Waking The Red) has called it as it is… Toronto FC performances have been totally polarized in 2012.

CCL matches have brought out their best – a feisty underdog attitude that tightens their game and drives them to stay in the fight even when they fall behind. Let’s give credit where it’s due. That pluck has brought them to within one match of the Champions League Final.

The first three MLS contests this season have shown TFC to be disappointingly impotent. They dominated much of the play against a visiting Columbus this past weekend. But the Reds also made a few critical mistakes and coughed up a goal. Worse yet, they were shutout for their second straight league game at BMO Field. And the previous two performances were much worse. Disorganized and without moral conviction, the Reds’ MLS character, thus far, has been all smoke and no fire.

Which side will appear tonight in Mexico? If there’s any hope of advancing, it better be the fiery underdogs.

Seattle turned limp in Torreon in the previous stage, and odds makers are definitely favouring the home side. It ended up being a humiliating defeat for the Sounders. It would be easy to forecast the same fate for TFC tonight. Win or lose, however, I’m hoping to see the scrappy fighters back out there. Even if they can’t topple Santos from their home perch, the character Toronto FC have shown through the CCL matches has been keeping my faith alive in this team.

Youth, Big Games & Mistakes

I thought Logan Emory played a very solid game for the Reds against Columbus. For the most part, he was calm and competent. Unfortunately, he also made a few errors, including a missed clearance that allowed Columbus to score. Similarly, Miguel Aceval was beaten in the first leg of this CCL round, showing himself slow on his feet and slow to track and respond to a Herculez Gomez run to beat the offside trap. These critical breakdowns are proving to be a lingering issue for this side.

Tonight, and moving forward in the MLS competition, TFC have got to find a way to hold fast at the back. I would expect to see Ty Harden at the back with Aceval. They aren’t the speediest backs in the roster, but they are the best hope for stability and muscle.

Without Koevermans in the line-up, Luis Silva may be called on, perhaps as a starter. He was revved up for the games against his hometown Galaxy. It would be nice to see the same intensity and flair if he returns to the pitch tonight.

The Mexicans aren’t invincible. It will be interesting to see which side wants to triumph more. Santos Laguna are cocky and confident, as they probably should be.

As they have in the previous rounds of this contest, TFC must embrace their inner underdogs. It’s one game. Anything can happen.

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