Toronto FC is going to have a challenge on their hands tonight in Panama as they take on Tauro FC in the first game for the Reds in this years group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. But the challenge is more likely to come from the officials I believe than from the opponent across the field. Due respect to them, but Tauro FC must be considered the soft touch in this group of four clubs that TFC finds itself in this season. An even though TFC can’t field their best starting eleven this evening (Frings is suspended, Avila is Cup tied to Dallas) the Reds must still be favoured.
As I wrote last week the path ahead for Toronto FC to have ay chance of getting out of this group starts tonight in Panama. Some pundits are saying a draw is not the worst result in the world. I respectfully disagree. Anything less than three points in Panama is going to make it extremely difficult for the club to have any chance to advance out of the group and into the final eight.
And like TFC’s last foray into Central America (two weeks ago to Real Esteli in Nicaragua) this will be another test of character.
Torsten Frings is not playing. And considering his influence on every single player around him in the last five undefeated matches for TFC I feel this will be the biggest miss of all. Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield are going to be relied upon for not only quality individual play this evening but also for the calming inflence that their experience can bring to those around them. I for one would hope that Frings accompanied the team to Panama ans is still yelling orders from the sidelines the way he usully does when he is on the field. Eric Avila is still in Toronto.
Last week I spoke extensively in this space about Cuban referee Marco Brea, who CONCACAF has put in charge this evening. In four previous international games in the past year he has officiated he has awarded 22 yellows and 2 red cards. He also officiates in the Cuban domestic league, which is a league that is somewhat hard to take a look at from the outside considering that there are probably computers logged into the Internet on that entire island that only number in the hundreds. Without seeing him before I am going to go out on a limb and guess that he will be a usual central casting type of central American official who will do no favours to TFC. With Frings suspended due to card accumulation it is important that players keep their noses clean and not play into the usual tactics we might expect to see from Tauro. Dunfield in particular needs to be particularly careful as he is on a yellow from the first leg o the Real Esteli match.
And to look forward for a moment the Reds play FC Dallas at home next week in their second match. Last evening Dallas made history when they defeated Pumas (albeit a somewhat understrength Pumas side) in Mexico City, the first time that a Mexican side has been defeated at home by a MLS club. Whether Dallas, who have to play Seattle at home on Saturday and have to go to Kansas City next weekend after playing Toronto on Wednesday will be taking this tournament as seriously as TFC will remains to be seen. In any case they have to keep their eyes on what is an extremely tough MLS western conference and depending on how their match goes this weekend TFC might have a pretty good chance of not getting a FC Dallas side as engaged in the tie as TFC will be.
Hopefully TFC can take of business this evening and make it two wins in a row in Central America.