The math is simple. If Toronto FC scores one single solitary goal this evening in Honduras against CD Motagua they make their chances of qualifying for the group stages of the 2010 CONCACAF Champions League significantly easier.

Toronto FC advances then with any of the following scenarios: A win, a draw of any score 1-1… 10-10… it does not matter. Or a one-goal loss, a long as that loss is not 1-0 (then there is overtime and potentially penalties).

Motagua advances with a two-goal win (thanks to the away goals rule). The game goes to thirty minute extra time (plus penalties, if needed) if  Motagua leads 1-0 after ninety minutes.

But when has Toronto FC ever done anything easy???

One single Toronto goal makes the math that much harder for Motagua. Yet that single solitary goal may be a huge ask, at least based on current form. In the last two months Toronto FC has played nine competitive matches in all competitions (MLS, Voyageurs Cup and Champions League and minus the tenth game – the friendly with Bolton). In those nine matches Toronto has only scored four goals while conceding seven. And seven of those matches have been in the cozy confines of BMO Field. Even at home TFC has not been able to consistently find the back of the net.

Perhaps on the more encouraging side is that TFC has only allowed more than one goal against on one occasion in that last two month stretch (away to Philadelphia). And in all the ten away games played so far in 2010 TFC has only been shut out four times. So they can score away from home, just not often.

The loss in Kansas City on Saturday was of course a real jolt considering it brought up so many of the concerns that have dogged TFC since day one. Defensive miscues, lack of width, predictable tactics, piss poor finishing, take your pick, there was a lot of problems on full display Saturday evening. And this recent summer swoon has obviously made the playoff race that much more difficult for TFC as they head down the stretch. Add to that the obvious challenges of playing in Central America that don’t need to be re-hashed here. Professional pessimist/bingo caller Gerry Dobson of Sportsnet does a good enough job describing the challenges right here:

Now the cynic in me is maybe thinking that Mo/Preki are obviously more concerned about the MLS and getting into the playoffs. If the simple choice of the MLS playoffs versus the group stage of the Champions league were offered to them they (and most TFC fans I reckon) would of course probably choose the MLS playoffs if it was a straight either/or kind of decision. I am sure that their collective job security could very well depend upon them finding a way to get TFC into those league playoffs for the first time, especially with the possible payoff of the MLS final being played in front of a home crowd at BMO Field. The cynic in me also might think that if TFC misses out on the Champions League there are six less matches to play and two less road trips to Central America to squeeze into a hectic MLS schedule. That may to an extent not look like something that would terribly upset Mo/Preki as they try and secure a playoff berth and their jobs.

The bean counters that work for MLSE and report to Mr. Tom Anselmi may well feel very different about the Champions League. Three additional home dates means a significant chunk of change for MLSE that is a potential budgetary windfall. Doing some very tongue-in-cheek arithmetic three home games at say 18,000 tickets sold at an average of $55 plus an average concession/beer purchase of $10 per customer minus expenses could conceivably work out to be somewhere between $ 2.75 million to $3 million in added revenue. The players have already been paid. They don’t get extra for these games so your costs per game are even lower then they would of course normally be. That is a lot of money to leave on the table and I am sure there will some pretty unhappy accountants going to work tomorrow for MLSE if TFC does not secure those three additional home games. I am absolutely sure that MLSE wants both the playoffs and the Champions League to take place and anything less than achieving both once the off season post mortems take place will be looked upon as a disappointment.

In three and half short seasons Toronto FC has existed there have been only what I would consider a few “historic” games. And unfortunately TFC’s record has been less than stellar overall. Granted there have been some great victories in that time – Two straight Canadian Championships and the “Montréal Miracle” of course come to mind, as does the historic win last week at home in the first leg of this series. But there have been many significant disappointments as well. First game in club history – loss. First home game – loss. First Canadian Championship tournament – loss. First chance to get into MLS playoffs on the last game of the season against the worst team in the league – 5 nil loss. First attempt at qualifying for the Champions League – loss.

Tonight Toronto FC has a chance to secure a place in a tournament that they have never ever had the chance to play in before. Simply put it is going to be a historic evening. Going to Central America under less than ideal circumstances with a better than fair chance of coming away victorious in a meaningful game is something the club has never experienced before. I want Toronto FC to at least for today not think one single second about MLS, the MLS playoffs, Chivas on Saturday or anything else other than securing their place in the Champions League. There are thirteen more MLS games to go before the playoffs start. If Toronto FC’s brain trust, in some cynical attempt to protect their jobs or manage expectations, does not field their best side this evening or does not look like they are interested in giving their fans something they have never experienced before, international success, then a wonderful opportunity will have been wasted and fan cynicism will surely grow.

You have to learn how to win. Throwing a roster together and expecting them to all of a sudden know what it takes to achieve victory is a tall ask. I would submit that this Toronto FC club needs to truly learn how to win. Tonight is a good place to start that lesson.


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