Alright, after all these months of meaningless games with TFC long out of the playoffs, even mathematically never mind realistically, we finally get a match that means something. With a 3 goal victory in this one, TFC would once again advance to the knockout stages of the Concacaf Champions League. 3-0, exactly what they got the last time they went down to Central America to play an away game. Can they do it? Are you shivering with antici.............pation?
Well no. No-one is. This isn't CD Aguila, or the Montreal Impact, where TFC have come away with 3-0 wins already this season, This is Mexico, this is Santos Laguna. As soon as TFC let in those two late goals in the home leg to ensure we'd need a win down there, this whole group was over. Given the format change, it was realistically over as soon as the draw was made. Thanks again Concacaf.
So, yeah, this one's as pointless as all the others have been recently, but the opposition certainly does bring a nice bit of symmetry to the season, if nothing else. Remember when, back in April, the club headed down to Mexico, how bright eyed, bushy tailed and optimistic you felt. Sure, it was going to be difficult after only getting a tie in the home leg, courtesy of Miguel Aceval's free kick, what Danny Dichio predicted would be the first of many, but then so was going to L.A with only a tie and two away goals conceded, and we got the result there. It was at least plausible, and if they couldn't get the result, well at least they'd be free to get their league campaign back on track. Sure they'd lost their first 3 games at that point, the last game a frustrating day against Columbus, unimaginative attacking, combined with a shocking moment from Logan Emory leading to a 1-0 defeat, but that's easily overcome once things get going. Then TFC took the lead. Twice. 2-1 up, and even the equaliser left TFC ahead on away goals going into the break, 3/4 of the way through the tie.
Then Santos Laguna scored 4, it ended 6-2, and a few days later, TFC lost in Montreal, which really brought the crashing realisation of 'oh shit, we're really in trouble aren't we.' An impromptu chorus of 3 little birds brightened a gloomy metro ride back downtown, illuminating the hope that still existed back then that ev'ry little ting WAS eventually, gonna be alright. The black humour survival instinct kicked in with Easter related jokes of TFC dying for our sins, to be resurrected of course (still waiting for that one), while a very long suffering cynic warily eyed the Canada shirt I was wearing and said "and I'm going to have to deal with THAT this year as well'.
Now here we are. THAT got our hopes up before crashing out spectacularly, almost too pathetic to be really heartbreaking. TFC did eventually win some games, but have built another long streak to end the season, extending that on Saturday by not winning against the Impact. So back to Torreon it is, infinitely less hopeful than before, just wanting the season to be put out of it's misery, to allow our footy supporting souls to heal.
Anyway, this is supposed to be a preview isn't it? Alright then. We'll get knocked out. There it is. It just depends on how much Santos Laguna wants it as to what the score will be, whether we can even get some kind of result on the night. maybe they'll see it as a chance for the first team to rest and the reserves or youth players to get some time. Given they're struggling in the league right now, maybe they'll see this as a chance to lay a beating on someone to kickstart some confidence and improved form. However they want to play it, that's how it'll turn out.
For TFC, it'll be whichever of the usual suspects are actually healthy enough to play. Freddy Hall will be in goal, no need for Milos Kocic to leave the kids behind for this one, Jeremy Hall, Richard Eckersley and Ashtone Morgan will be in defence, and if Logan Emory and Darren O'Dea can't shake off injuries, then it'll probably be impossible for Paul Mariner to avoid having to play Adrian Cann at the back. Season MVP Terry Dunfield and Aaron Maund will be the defensive midfielders trying to hang in with the Santos players, and doesn't that sound disastrous? Ryan Johnson's back from suspension, presumably replacing Eric Avila, and joining Reggie Lambe, Luis Silva and Eric Hassli up front. (Edit: It was confirmed today that Hassli won't be playing, so that makes me a lot more optimistic. oh yes.)
That's not really the recipe for a Milagro en Mexico is it? Maybe there'll be another big scuffle to make it interesting. Or a cat. Oh well, we're almost done.