Ah the Concacaf Champions League, that crazy magical place where miracles can happen, and Toronto FC can actually compete. Yes, it starts up again for TFC this Wednesday in a brand new all singing all dancing format that isn't even pretending not to blatantly favour the American and Mexican teams.
A whole fresh competition is a very good thing for Paul Mariner, as his team finally gets the chance to compete completely on it's own terms, without the weight of 1-9 dragging down any good things that might happen. It could of course also be seen as a bad thing as there's no built in excuses, and as opposed to the awful MLS record he gets to favourably compare his results to, TFC's CCL record under Aron Winter was pretty damn good.
It should be a very interesting comparison, especially given the very different tactics and formation employed by Mariner. Whereas the more physical style of MLS often hindered TFC's ability to play how Aron Winter wanted successfully, the more languid pace of play in the CCL suited that style, allowing TFC to keep possession and build attacks in ways they could rarely do in MLs play. Possession really isn't Mariner's thing though, barely averaging above 40% in MLS play, TFC's new found proclivity for direct attacking, more focused on getting the ball up field than maintaining possession really could hurt them here. Give the ball away repeatedly and cheaply to teams that live to pass it around and make you chase them could well be suicide, maybe not against CD Àguila, but I imagine Santos Laguna will be licking their lips at being given the ball so many times to do what they want with.
Santos Laguna are of course the green and white hooped elephant in the room for this game, the heavily favoured team in the group. If TFC are to advance, they'll have to get maximum points against Àguila, get at least a tie at home against Santos and hope that the El Salvadoreans can upset them and take away a few points. I don't think anyone wants to be going to Torreon needing a result, not after what happened last time. All of which means that this has to be looked at as the easiest game of the group for TFC, and the best chance to run up the goal difference.
The question is, can they do that. A lot may depend on the availability of Eric Hassli to provide the spark up front. Reports from training though certainly didn't look good for his prospects of jumping into the starting lineup as he recovers from his injury. That might mean we see Ryan Johnson and Quincy Amarikwa up front again. Hands up who's excited for thaf one after how well it went against Houston? Swap Amarikwa for Andrew Wiedeman and it doesn't look much more promising does it? Of course, the talented, well organised and in form Houston team and defence had something to do with that, the previous 3 game win streak saw what we can do against weaker opponents, even without Danny Koevermans.
Wiedeman for Amarikwa is the only potential change I can see in the lineup right now, as there's few options on the bench that Mariner really seems to like, hopefully at the very least Hassli can get on the bench and make an appearance late on if necessary.
The good news in that 'few options on the bench' thing, especially as it relates to our oh so shaky defence is that players can be added to the roster later on, as long as we don't go over 30 players all together, as per rule 5.3 here So far TFC's roster has 26 players on so there's room to add on if we make any further signings or trades. presumably new signing Freddy Hall, officially announced today will be added on there, taking it up to 27. Rather wastefully given that teams are allowed to resubmit entirely different rosters for the knockout stage if they make it, Danny Koevermans is taking up one of those 27 spots, as is Nicholas Lindsay who I'd be very surprised to see playing a role at all this year, a couple of very curious decisions that hopefully won't hurt us if they block others from playing.
Anyway, that probably won't even be an issue, and even if it is, it certainly won't be for this game, so let's move on, and take a look at CD Àguila. Are they the 'weaker opponents' that I mentioned TFC doing well against before.
I'll not pretend to know much about them at all, I'd imagine they're likely to be very difficult to play against at home, but at BMO Field, we really should be beating them.
A glance at their roster throws up no names that are recognisable to me, though wikipedia assures me that plenty of them have made it to the El Salvador national team, with Osael Romero the most successful with 14 goals, good for 9th all time with the national team. This is their first appearance in the modern day CCL, but way back when, in 1976 they won the Concacaf Champions Cup so there's a bit of history there.
Perhaps the funnest fact I can find comes from wikipedia, and the list of coaches they've had in the 2010's, they make TFC look like a bastion of stability and patience in comparison, check this out.
- Nelson Ancheta (Dec 2009- March 2010)
- Rubén Alonso (March 2010-May 2010)
- Carlos Mijangos (June 2010- August 2010)
- Eraldo Correia (September 2010 - Dec 2010)
- Hugo Coria (Jan 2011-Sep 2011)
- Salvador Coreas Privado (Oct 2011–Dec 2011)
- Eraldo Correia (Dec 2011-Jan 2012)
- Víctor Coreas (Jan 2012-)
Coreas has managed to last 7 months now, an epically long stay made possible by winning the 2011/12 Clausura, and is off to a decent start this season, with 2 wins out of 3, so they probably aren't the pushovers some might expect. I think it'll be a frustrating game and getting an early goal could be key as the longer it goes, the more we can expect all those concacaf theatrics we all know and love so much. I doubt Hassli will play, and thus we'll struggle, but I think in the end it'll be an unsatisfying 1-0 win that TFC come away with.