Toronto F.C. started a grueling schedule on Tuesday — three games in seven days — with a CONCACAF Champions League game versus five-time winnners, Cruz Azul. The Mexicans arrived in Toronto after a 4-1 win over league rivals, Pachuca. Cruz Azul made six changes to their squad for the Champions League game, including starting national team member Gerardo Torrado on the bench.
But La Maquina Celeste didn’t seem divinely inspired as Toronto forced the play from the start. The Mexicans found themselves down 1-0 in the fourth minute of play, after TFC midfielder Martin Saric took advantage of some poor clearing to head home his first of the year. Perhaps Cruz Azul looked out of sync because of the shock of finding out BMO field had natural grass (they had practiced on artificial turf in Mexico to prepare for the match). Toronto ended the half with newly-signed designated player Mista scoring his first from just outside the 18-yard box to complete TFC’s best half of soccer this year.
In the second half, Torrado came in, and clearly had an impact, controlling the midfield and creating chances as soon as he stepped on the pitch. His play resulted in a goal — but too little too late. The win gave TFC three points in the group stage, which is rounded out by Panamanian side Arabe Unido and MLS champion Real Salt Lake.
Three days later, Toronto welcomed the New York Red Bulls in a battle for second place in the Eastern Division. New York came into the game five points ahead of the Reds after a 1-0 win at home two weeks ago. They were looking to extend their lead by bringing a star studded team to BMO, including designated players Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Juan Pablo Angel.
Surprisingly Toronto took it the stars — who seemed to be on a stroll — but couldn’t convert on three great chances from close. Nick LaBrocca hit the crossbar and Dwayne DeRosario’s shot from inside the 18-yard box was stopped by defender Tim Ream. But on the Red Bulls’ next possession, Marquez found himself unmarked from about 25 yards out. He half-volleyed a bullet with the outside of his right foot into the top right corner, leaving TFC keeper Stefan Frei with no chance.
Toronto defenders did a pretty nice job defending against French international Henry, allowing him only one chance that he put over the bar. After the game, Henry said he wasn’t match-fit because of a nagging hamstring injury. But he did say he liked BMO’s atmosphere — where he was loudly booed every time he touched the ball.
After an own goal by Joseph Nane made it 2-0 for the Red Bulls, Toronto came out of the second half with purpose. Their aggressiveness paid off as DeRosario scored from in close to cut the lead in half.
A straight red to TFC’s Nana Attakora for a hand ball in the box resulted in an Angel penalty that essentially sealed Toronto’s fate. Adding insult to injury, former Toronto midfielder Carl Robinson made it 4-1 after Frei couldn’t control a cross. Robinson was let go earlier this year after failing to see eye-to-eye with coach Preki. Afterwards, the classy Robinson said he didn’t celebrate the goal because he had too much respect for the fans and organization after spending three years here.
Toronto will now continue its Champions League run on Tuesday night in Panama before returning home next Saturday to host Real Salt Lake in MLS play.