A Few Points West, 8/2 (Real Esteli 1-2 TFC): Mission Objective Achieved.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was very leery about tonight. With the unfamiliar confines of Estadio Independencia, the oppressive heat of Central America and the usual bad rap of CONCACAF refereeing, I truly believed that the game could have gone either way.

Here’s some of what I saw from the game tonight…

1. OMGLOLBBQ SRSLY RSN? First, it was putting last week’s home tie on Setanta. Now this week, tape delaying the game for a meaningless baseball match on Sportsnet One. I thought last week was a one-off, but this has to be ridiculous. Sportsnet likes to brag that they carry over 500 MLB games a season on their channels, which is probably more than the number of NHL games that all regional Sportsnet channels combined carry.

If Rogers is really serious about footy, they have to treat every game seriously. Besides, each MLB team plays over 160 games a season…some baseball fan out there won’t miss one game.

2. His Name Is Raul and He Is a Referee: Once again, CONCACAF refereeing quality is laid bare for all to see for what it is…inconsistent and sometimes baffling. The penalty that Raul Castro gave against Andy Iro was rather harsh (I don’t think there was intent to block, or maybe I’m reading the rules wrong), and there were a few handballs missed.

Overall he didn’t make any blunders that made a significant impact on the result (which for some isn’t a bad thing), but to miss numerous infractions doesn’t do CONCACAF’s reputation any favours.

3. We’re Deep Sixed in Green Now: There is a reason why Real Esteli (or any other Nicaraguan team) has only made one appearance in the Champions League, and the pitch made that fact all the more obvious. I can understand that Nicaragua isn’t a rich country, but if it wants to make an impact in the Champions League, a pitch like this isn’t acceptable.

The pitch looked patchy and could almost pass for one of those 3D pictures that if you stare long enough, would reveal another image. While I didn’t see anything, the pitch clearly needs some more work.

4. A Pair of Johnsons: If there was a time for someone other than Joao Plata to score a brace to seal a two-legged series, I’m glad it was Ryan Johnson. He’s been good so far but these two goals are probably the most important in his club career so far – singlehandedly taking the game away and putting the team one step farther in a continental competition is nothing to be sneezed at.

One thing is for sure, with the arrival of Eric Avila, this could make things very interesting as he and Johnson will likely have a few words to say about who ends up making the MLS Cup playoffs, or if the Reds will be playing in the knockout stages.

5. (Come On,) Finish Him!: Joao Plata had some early chances to score the first goal tonight, but has been guilty of too soft a touch many a time…and tonight again, he was guilty of soft touching. If there is a chance, you must capitalize. If the game had gone a different way after Real Esteli scored the penalty, we could be sitting here ruing some of Plata’s misses instead of celebrating passage to the next round.

6. Redemption Is Just One Good Game Away: If you read my pre-game report, you would know that I expected a full-strength lineup. Having Milos Kocic start was a bit of a surprise, but in the end he put together a very strong performance and in my eyes has atoned for his error last week, and this likely will have made a difference in the young goalkeepers’ career.

With that, the Reds are back in the Group Stages for the second year in a row. Will FC Dallas end up joining them in Group C? Will our forays to Mexico and Panama end up better than before?

Join us next time on... As The CONCACAF Turns.