Toronto FC dealt a blow to the image of Mexican soccer at BMO Field Tuesday night. The Reds opened their first ever group stage match in CONCACAF Champions League play Tuesday night against two time cup finalist Cruz Azul with a 2 – 1 victory before a crowd of approximately 15,000.
Most observers weren’t giving the home team much chance against the Mexico City side which could well be the toughest in the competition. But, Toronto coach Preki said after the match, “We were ready to go, we were ready to compete, we were ready to press them.” Pressuring the classy Mexicans high and early was the key to the match.
It was the same approach TFC had used successfully in qualifying against Central American squad Motagua at home and away in Honduras last month.
The tactic unsettled the visitors and it was a failed attempt to play the ball out from deep in their own end that resulted in the first Toronto goal in only the third minute of play. TFC had five men forward on the right side when defender Maksim Usanov, kept a ball in play with a header along the end line to Dwayne De Rosario which De Ro tapped out in front of goal to Mista whose header found Martin Saric looking at a open net. Saric nodded it in and the home side had the confidence they would need to carry them through.
Cruz Azul appeared shaky after the early strike, letting TFC continually take it to them and Toronto might easily have notched the killer second marker 25 minutes in when De Rosario came streaking in right of center, was fouled by defender Fausto Pinto just outside the penalty area. The ball did continue on to Mista who too was fouled inside the area. That combination should have resulted in a penalty had the referee allowed the advantage rule to apply.
Mista sent the team into the dressing room for the break with a surprising goal in the closing minute. This time it was left side defender Hscanovics bringing the ball well forward to find Mista with time and space to control his pass with one touch with his right foot and a hard ground shot with the left that the keeper, Guiterrez couldn’t push wide and the ball rolled just inside the right post.
Christian Gimenez bagged a nice free kick from about 25 yards to get the single goal for the visitors with only minutes remaining and Toronto easily hung on to take the all important 3 points they will need to take into their next CCL encounter in Panama versus Arabe Unido next week.
Cruz Azul coach Enrique Meza – the winningest coach in the Mexican First Division over the past 19 years – told Examiner he isn’t surprised with the progress he has witnessed football make in Toronto since his first visit at the helm of Mexico’s National Team in 2001 at Varsity Stadium and a friendly with League Champion Pachuca on artificial turf at BMO two years ago. He said the players are faster, stronger and more physically fit. There has been an improvement in technical ability and major improvement in football facilities. “We knew we would be playing a very good team and tonight they deserved the victory.”