The Crucible of Combat – Why TFC Will Win in Nicaragua!
It has been said and written by many writers and students of humanity that it often takes hardship and adversity to bring a group that does not know each other very well together. Cliches abound to try and describe the phenomenon. Phrases like “…you quickly get to know the person in the foxhole next to you when the shooting starts…” I think kind of do a pretty good job of describing what I am on about in this post.
The proverbial “foxhole” at hand for Toronto FC might be looked at Real Esteli’s stadium, the very place where under tough circumstances the Reds go Tuesday evening to try and secure a precious spot in the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League.
And the tough circumstances abound.
Tonight sees TFC play its fifth competitive match in fourteen days. Included in this run were two trips to Kansas City and Portland respectively, and if you have traveled in North America you will know that this is a big ass continent! The Reds flew into Dallas Texas yesterday from Portland (about a three hour flight) then they boarded a charter 737 that MLSE hired to fly the club to Managua in Nicaragua. That was a five hour flight that was followed up by a roughly 200 kilometer bus trip to Esteli which is not served by an airport large enough to handle a Boeing 737. Many legs are likely rubbery. And they bus back to Managua tomorrow and fly to Washington DC to take on DC United on the weekend. No rest for the weary!
Since the transfer window opened a couple of weeks ago Aron Winter and Paul Mariner have brought in ten players and seven have left. TFC is about to set a record for playing the most players in a single season in the fifteen odd year history of Major League Soccer as an entity. These guys hardly know each other. In fact Tuesday saw yet another trade where Maicon Santos (likely seen as surplus to requirements with the signing of Danny Koevermans) was traded to FC Dallas for young midfielder (and former Generation Adidas prospect) Eric Avila. That level of almost unprecedented roster upheaval is a hardship in and of itself.
Real Esteli Stadium has a pitch that looks like a patchy bog surrounded by bleachers for about 4,500 people. Trying to play a possession style of footy on a less than ideal surface after many key starters who will likely play tonight have just played on sketchy FieldTurf in Oregon is a huge ask. The only surprise is the fact that the weather for the match is expected to be roughly 20 degrees with average humidity and light winds. Not all of Nicaragua is carved out of Central American jungle I guess.
Did I mention that the officials are Honduran? With all due respect to Referee in charge Raul Castro, who recently was a 4th official in a couple of Gold Cup matches, I have less than full confidence in his total partiality going in. As a TFC Fan I remember well the blatant screw-job that was the Arabe Unido away match last season that saw Salvadorean Marlon Mejia give TFC five undeserved cards, two of them red as an undeserving/diving Panamanian side essentially put TFC out of the knockout stages of the Champions League. It has happened before. Just ask Canadian Men’s National Team supporters after the 2007 Gold Cup what they think of Honduran officials. Again another hurdle for the new look Reds to overcome.
And finally there is the matter of that away goal that TFC conceded last week back in Toronto. If the Nicaraguans can score a goal at home then the task for TC gets even more challenging.
Yet even with all these challenges I am confident. I am confident that not only TFC will win the match outright but that the club will emerge as a stronger outfit for the experience.
So to sum up
- The pitch will be a cow pasture, if they are lucky.
- Many of the players will be tired after the travel and 200k bus ride, let alone this being their fifth game in fourteen days.
- Half the team are newcomers who are unfamiliar with one another.
- The Honduran officials will be unlikely to do us any favours at all.
Yet even with all this against them there is one simple thing clear to me. Toronto FC is a country mile ahead of their opponents in skill and quality, and for that matter collective experience.
Toronto FC WILL gut this one out and do what they need to do to win the match and secure qualification.