The emotional rollercoaster just keeps going for Toronto FC supporters. The high of the big event and the big win against LA Galaxy, was followed by two consecutive defeats in MLS play, with the second in the home opener against San Jose being a particularly soul sappingly poor effort. And then this, a thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable game in so many ways. If the march 7th game at the Skydome was a successful novelty, and a very good manufactured event, this, this was a magnificent authentic football experience.
The wind and the rain, yeah it gets tired when it happens every single game, and maybe it's just because I grew up watching football through English winters, but it feels right, and can really magnify emotions about a game. Saturday's game was just made all the more miserable by the rain and wind, tonight it just added to the atmosphere, another obstacle to be overcome.
The crowd. Having 47,000+ was great, and the streamers were fun, but it didn't seem to be really about the game. All the TFC fans here tonight were here for the game. With many Season ticket holders not taking their seats, that meant a lot of new, more enthusiastic blood in the stands. Though BMO Field was nowhere near full, there were more fans there than I was expecting, the North Stand was full and boisterous throughout the game, even my section, 227 was a lot louder than usual. The Supporters sections did their usual thing, but unusually, all seemed to be in their place well before the game started to do it.
Away fans. Yes they're annoying, especially when interspersed among the TFC fans rather than just in their own section, but a little bit of hostility, and someone to joust with just makes emotions runs higher, and unless things go too far, that's a good thing.
The Football. Even if the result had meant nothing, this was a genuinely entertaining game that you couldn't take your eyes off. Many momentum shifts, good saves, close misses, and plenty of chances beyond the two goals.
The Drama. Plenty of fouls, dives, red cards and off the ball incidents, all topped off with, well what do you call that, i'll go with brouhaha, to finish the game. Yes, it's not big and it's not clever, and blah blah blah, shut up, it's fun. Both sides including training staff, and security guards as well, all in one big kerfuffle, with all sides of the ground cheering and TFC-clap-clap-clapping them on, that's a fantastic way to end the game.
The vast majority of games in any competition, in any country don't really live up to expectation, maybe you'll be happy with the result, but the game and occasion are rarely all that memorable. Every now and then though, there's a game that totally restores your faith in football, that you won't forget in a long time. All of the above, especially when combined with the fact that all the experts had spent the days since the San Jose game predicting a stroll in the park for Santos Laguna, meant this was one of those nights.
What's that, you want to read about the actual game? Alright then, that's all after the jump
First thing to say is that it was a good game from Toronto FC, a massive improvement from Saturday's insipid effort. Aron Winter again went with 4 at the back with Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield just ahead of them. The high line and offside trap wasn't completely gone, and led to Santos' goal, but TFC were generally a lot less ambitious with their pressure of the opposition, sitting back much more, which was a good thing. They also stuck with that plan for the full game, a very wise choice that helped limit Santos' chances. Of the defenders Miguel Aceval had a rough game at the back, but hey, due to some shoddy goalkeeping, he scored form a free kick, so that kind of evens it up.
In midfield is where there was the biggest improvement, Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield both had fantastic games, helping the defence out, getting in the way of the Santos midfield, as well as creating chances, de Guzman with one fabulous run down the right and cross for a Ryan Johnson effort that brought a magnificent save from Sanchez.
The gap between the midfield and the front 4 wasn't as obvious as it often is, with all the attacking players making effort to come back and challenge for balls. On the wings, Nick Soolsma was excellent and Reggie Lambe fully justified the decision to start him ahead of Joao Plata on the Left Wing.
Danny Koevermans continued his goalless streak, but looks to be getting sharper by the game and the chances are starting to come for him. With a bit more luck he'd have scored here, but the goals are definitely on the way for him. Unfortunately he won't be able to play in the return leg after picking up a yellow card for trying to take a free kick too quickly for the ref's liking, which means he'll be suspended.
That was a curious decision, but really TFC can't complain about the refs at all. Ricardo Salazar fell for very little of Santos' expected flopping and rolling, but on top of that, he didn't call a penalty against Aaron Maund when all evidence pointed to a clear push in the box. He also red carded Mores of Santos, whose studs were maybe a bit high in a 50/50 challenge with Richard Eckersley, but it really didn't warrant a red.
Darwin Quintero also picked up a red card right at the end for his off the ball mugging of Ashtone Morgan which kicked off the awesome bench clearing shenanigans, the ref missed it, the tv cameras missed it, but the linesman was on the ball for that one. After the game, the Santos coach complained about the fact the referee was an american. I'll be charitable and presume he really means MLS, but to be fair, he's well within his rights to be angry, as this was one of the few times that a Canadian team was on the right side of the shabby Concacaf refereeing.
All in all, it was a performance to be proud of from TFC, and though Santos will no doubt be more than happy to take the draw back to Mexico with them, and there's no question that TFC's chances are very very slim of getting a result, they did what they needed to do to give themselves a chance. This was no embarrassment of MLS as many predicted, it was a good result, a well deserved one, and one which could legitimately have ended better with a bit more luck in front of goal.
This is 5 straight CCL games now where TFC have defied the odds and conventional wisdom and got a result against 'better' teams. They've had to get the win away from home each time to advance, and they've done it twice. They can't do it again can they? Can they?