So the first leg ended 1-1 with all sorts of feistiness and suspensions all over the place, and now Toronto FC are heading to what the media seem to be trying to tell us is the world's most dangerous place, and a stadium where if the team returns defeated but actually alive, we should probably look at that as a decent result. Eben Lehman of FMF State Of Mind joins me once again to try and explain just why Santos are so good at home, and what changes we can expect to see from the side that came to Toronto? So for the second time in a week, Santos Laguna, how you doin'?
WTR: Santos Laguna are obviously a much tougher team to play against in Torreon, where North American clubs have had some memorable collapses. What is it in particular that makes the home advantage so large? Weather? supporters? A mental block about playing in Mexico? Or something else?
FMFSOM: It's probably a combination of all of the above. There's no question that Santos have been a very tough team to play at home of late -- the club is undefeated in seven league games at Estadio Corona this season, plus that huge 6-1 win over Seattle in the CCL quarterfinals. I don't know that there is any one main factor that you can point to that accounts for the recent success at home. It's not necessarily the most intimidating venue, and the fans aren't quite as rabid as you might see at some other stadiums in Mexico, but Santos just seem to perform at a higher level on their home field. Sometimes for North American teams just playing in Mexico itself is intimidating, let alone against an opponent as tough as Santos. As you said, we have seen some monumental collapses by visiting foreign teams in Torreon (see: Montreal, 2009 quarterfinal round). So even with a lead, it's never safe for the visiting team until the final whistle.
WTR: Last week's game obviously got a bit feisty, and the coach and Herculez Gomez in particular had angry words to say afterwards. Did that sense of outrage carry over to fans and media in Mexico? Is that going to play a part in this week's match as extra motivation or after a day or two to calm down, is Toronto now being treated as just another team that should be easily beaten?
FMFSOM: The post game emotions did seem to carry over a bit to the fans. I spoke to a Santos fan down in Torreon this week, and he expects to see a much stronger showing from the supporters for this match on Wednesday then what we saw a few weeks ago for the match against Seattle (when the stadium was only partially full at best). Some of the postgame comments from Gomez and others seemed to give the local fan base a bit of a kick in the pants.
There are also a few additional factors which should contribute to a great crowd in Torreon on Wednesday. The club has been selling tickets for very cheap prices, much cheaper than regular league games and I believe even cheaper than last round's match with Seattle. Priced at levels of only 100 and 150 pesos (around 8 and 11.50 Canadian dollars), tickets have been reportedly selling extremely well. You also have players like Herculez Gomez and Marc Crosas imploring the locals to come out and support, and even buying tickets with their own money and giving them away to fans. In addition, this week is Holy Week in Mexico so there is no school and most everyone is off work Thursday and Friday, something which could help bring even more people out to the stadium.
WTR: Obviously suspensions to Quintero and Mares will force changes to the lineup, and Rodriguez will return from suspension, but what other lineup changes and tactical adaptations will we see? Do Santos generally play a different style at home?
FMFSOM: You'll see a similar tactical lineup, with a few personnel changes. You can also expect Santos to be even more aggressive playing at home. The loss of Quintero will hurt, especially considering the brilliant game he had this past Sunday against Toluca. Although even without Quintero, Santos is obviously not at a loss for talent in the attacking third. Assuming Daniel Luduena and Gomez are both fit to start, the front four (along with Christian Suarez and Oribe Peralta) will still be high quality. Juan Pablo Rodriguez will also return from suspension, which raises the level of play in the central midfield. The loss of Mares isn't a huge issue, as he was probably the overall weakest player in the Santos starting lineup in the first leg. Left back is one of the weaker areas for Santos, with or without Mares, so it should still be a point of attack for Toronto.
Possible lineup (4-2-3-1):
Suarez Luduena Gomez
Olvera Galindo Baloy Estrada