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Group C Lookback: How the Stage was set

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So we are finally here, the biggest game in the history of our beloved Reds is the next game on the schedule.  To kick off our coverage that will lead up to the match we are going to take a look back at how we got to this point in Group C where Toronto now face a must win game in Dallas with a chance to advance.

This is a story that most of us will remember filled with highs and lows, twists and turns, and some lovable characters.  It is a story that if it finds the right ending at Pizza Hut Park will be long remembered by Toronto FC fans as the first real success that the club has had.  If it gets the wrong ending well then it will do down as another painful chapter in the first 5 seasons. 

In case you missed it or forgot part of what brought TFC to this stage we will look back after the jump and follow the club all the way from winning the Voyageurs Cup to Dallas getting thumped down in Panama.

This seasons CONCACAF Champions League campaign really began for Toronto FC with their win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the final of the Voyageurs Cup (or the Nutrilite Canadian Championship if you prefer).  That match is one that Whitecap fans still complain about as they were in total control of the tie and the second leg but the weather had other ideas as a major storm forced the second leg to be canceled and rescheduled.  Toronto won that replay 2-1 (3-2 on agg.) on July 2nd and claimed their third straight Canadian Championship and a return to the CCL.  Joao Plata was named the MVP of the years NCC having scored and set up a goal in the final match against Vancouver, as well as putting in two great performances in the semi final against Edmonton.

Qualifiers:

TFC were back in the CCL with a qualifying round date with Real Esteli F.C. who earned their spot as champions of the Primera División de Nicaragua.  The first leg took place at Bmo Field on July 27th which was great timing for Toronto FC since it meant that much of their new look lineup would be available.  From the first game Milos Kocic was the man in goal and TFC got a 2-1 win thanks to a pair of goals from Joao Plata.  The second leg was on Esteli's particularly bad pitch in Nicaragua on August 2nd and was again a 2-1 win for Toronto.  This time around TFC got all their scoring from Ryan Johnson who netted on either side of the half time break to ensure that TFC would be making a return to the group stage.

When the groups were drawn TFC were probably looking at Pumas as the toughest team of the lot, Dallas they knew fairly well from league play, and then Tauro looked primed to be the weak link of the group.  On paper most people would have probably had Toronto finishing third in this group but they also would have had it being a lot less close than it has been so far.  The four teams in group C have all proven to be competitive and it has been a very entertaining run so far.

Round 1:

For TFC the group stage kicked off with a tricky trip down to Panama to take of Tauro on August 18th.  TFC were without their German midfielder as Frings was suspended for the group opener but even without him they were able to impress.  TFC came into this game looking to attack from the get go and only 6 minutes in Plata created a good chance as he rounded the keeper but ended up hitting the side netting from a bad angle.  They did not have to wait much longer for the break through as Johnson manage to get past a pair of defenders and apply a good finish in the 21st minute.  The second goal was not far behind as Julian DeGuzman continued his scoring ways netting from long range in the 24th.  That goal will be remembered for the confusion involved as there seemed to be an audible whistle as he shot which froze the keeper.  Late in the first half Eckersley was forced to head the ball clear from his own goal line after Kocic had been chipped and from then out TFC were a bit less impressive and some poor defending almost let Tauro back into the match as the hosts netted in the 76th minute after DeGuzman fouled in the box leading to a penalty.  Toronto held on for the 2-1 win in the end and thanks to Dallas going down to Mexico and claiming a shock 1-0 win over Pumas UNAM the Reds were on top of the group after the first round of matches.  It was looking as if Pumas were going to use this tournament to give match time to some fringe players and that might just open the door for the MLS teams.

Round 2:

Up next was an all MLS encounter as FC Dallas came to BMO Field on August 28th.  This was the second rain soaked affair of the season and eventually the first attempt at the match was called off.  They did manage to play half of the game that night with Dallas going up 1-0 through Brek Shea, but none of that mattered as the game was restarted the next day.  In front of a couple hundred fans Toronto came out decently as Dallas seemed willing to sit back and wait for their chance on the counter attack.  Toronto would concede a penalty just before the half as Richard Eckersley fouled Chavez in the box.  The penalty was saved by Milos Kocic but only a minute later Dallas got their goal from Jack Stewart.  It once again came from a corner kick where Toronto FC showed some poor marking skills and paid for it.  That was the only goal in what was a fairly even match but Toronto had Richard Eckersley sent off for a second red in the dying minutes of the game.  The good news for Reds fans was that Pumas and Tauro ended up settling for a 1-1 draw in Panama as the 10 men Pumas just could not break the hosts down.  The meant that after 2 rounds of play TFC were sitting second in the group with 3 points despite missing a great chance to solidify their place with a result against Dallas.

Round 3:

The third round of play was always going to be Toronto's toughest match of the group.  There really is no such thing as an easy trip to play in Mexico City as Toronto learned the hard way when they went to play Pumas UNAM.  The Mexican side decided that only picking up 1 point in their first two games was just not good enough so they ran out pretty much the A team this time around and were focused on getting the win.  Toronto on the other hand were coming into the game exhausted and beat up after a heavy schedule that had seen them spend the last of their energy to win the Trillium Cup 4-2 over the Columbus Crew.  Toronto did manage to create good chances in the opening minutes from Johnson and Koevermans but neither was able to convert and from then on it really was one way traffic.  Toronto conceded 4 times in the first half including a hattrick for Bravo.  In the end the final score of 4-0 was actually flattering for TFC as Pumas controlled the entire second half and were creating chances for fun.  That defeat combined with Tauro earning a 1-1 draw at Dallas meant that the group remained close but now Toronto had slipped down to third with Dallas and Pumas leading the way.

Round 4:

Round 4 was basically the first must win game of the year for Toronto as they were hosting Tauro at BMO on September 20th.  The match ended up being a fairly unexciting affair with neither team managing to create much.  TFC had Frings playing in the backline once again which really restricted the number of chances that Tauro could create but also made TFC less dangerous going forward.  The Reds did look miles better then they had down in Mexico and were rewarded with a headed goal from Danny Koevermans late in the first half.  The big Dutch striker managed to out jump everyone in the box and his header looped over the keeper who came out to punch and ended up in the back of the net.  Neither team really did much else in the match but yellow cards from Frings and Dunfield led to their eventual suspensions.  In the other match Pumas got revenge for their defeat down in Mexico by going in to Dallas and taking a 2-0 win.  After 4 rounds of play things were really tight in the group and no one was out of the running yet.

Round 5:

On September 27th Toronto faced a game against Pumas where they really needed to get a result, preferably a win, to keep them in the running to advance from the group.  The fact that Frings was again suspended made a lot of Reds fans nervous that our defenders would again be exposed by Pumas but this time around Pumas played a slightly weaker lineup and TFC seemed to have a lot more energy.  TFC took a first half lead thanks to a very calm finish from Peri Marosevic after Ryan Johnson and Danny Koevermans combined to win the ball and lay it back to him.  It was in the second half when a lot of fans began to question the choices that Aron Winter made.  He took off Koef and began to pack it in for basically the entire 45.  This led to Palacios scoring for Pumas in the 51st minute and not surprisingly it came via a set piece.  This time it was Andy Iro who got beat on a corner allowing the Pumas defender a free header past a helpless Kocic.  TFC managed to hold on for the 1-1 draw but fans were starting to get anxious about the team not making the CCL a priority and Winter's habit of trying to all out defend when the team is in the lead.  The other game in the round was now huge for TFC as a Tauro win would have really helped to improve their chance of getting out of the group.  Tauro ended up shocking Dallas to the tune of a 5-3 win in a match where 3 players were sent off including 2 from Dallas and Dallas got 2 penalties. 

So where does that leave us you might ask.  Well it means that the outlook is simple for Toronto FC.  Get a win in Dallas and you are moving on.  Thanks to Dallas losing in Panama the Reds can now advance with any win regardless of the score.  It will be no easy task as Dallas will know going into the game that basically a draw or a win will be enough for them to advance.  In the other match between Tauro and Pumas it is almost certain that Pumas will win but if somehow Tauro do win the group will get really interesting.

Just for reference here are the current standings:

#   Team GP W D L F A D PTS Last 5 matches  
1 5 2 2 1 7 2 +5 8 D W W D L
2 5 2 1 2 6 8 -2 7 L L D W W
3 5 2 1 2 4 7 -3 7 D W L L W
4 5 1 2 2 7 7 +0 5 W L D D L