For the first time in the club’s young history, Toronto FC will participate in the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, thanks to a 2-2 draw away to CD Motagua that knocked the venerable Honduran side out of the competition. Yeoman work from Stefan Frei, creative flair from Maicon, and second-half goals from Dwayne De Rosario and Chad Barrett saw the Reds come from behind twice to get a rare away result in front of a sparsely packed, but very loud Estadio Nacional Tegucigalpa. Former TFC star Amado Guevara had both of the hosts’ goals in what was an entertaining affair, with the Hondurans having the lion’s share of possession, but only to have the brilliant Frei stymie them on seven occasions.
After starting on the bench on Saturday versus Kansas City, captain Dwayne de Rosario and Chad Barrett returned to Preki’s starting line-up, along with a Champions League debutant in 17-year-old TFC Academy player, Doneil Henry, but it was the former TFC player who would get the crowd of 6,000 strong on its feet early.
In the 6th, a long ball over the head of Nick Garcia found its way to Mauricio Weber on the left, who nicely timed a cross for a diving Amado Guevara. The Motagua captain’s header easily beat a helpless Stefan Frei, who could only watch as the hosts went level on aggregate. It’s difficult to place blame on a 17-year-old rookie, but it was all too simple for Guevara to get in between Henry and Nana Attakora. That isn’t to put the goat horns on the central defense alone, as some very lax play in the middle allowed Motagua to move forward to start the play in the first place.
Young Henry was exposed again in the 17th by Honduran World Cup star Emilio Izaguirre, who stormed past the Brampton, Ontario native on the edge of the box and hammered a rising drive at net. Luckily for Frei, it wasn’t from the best of angles and it sailed well over the bar.
The pace picked up in the 28th. First, a nice one-two between Julian de Guzman and De Rosario sprung the captain behind the Motagua defense and the TFC talisman headed for goal. Unable to get full control of the ball to produce a quality shot, De Rosario was cut off by a charging Johnny Leveron, who did well to cut off DeRo’s attempt at net. From the ensuing clearance, Motagua would come back the other way, but a gorgeous long ball to Charles Cordoba went to waste when Weber sent a very tame low shot at Frei.
In an attempt to liven up his sluggish attack, Preki took off Henry at the half-hour for Maicon Santos, with Dan Gargan dropping into the back four, yet it was the hosts who looked most likely add another . First, in the 39th, Weber diagonally crossed a ball into right of the TFC area for an onrushing Cordoba. Making a split-second decision, Frei raced off his line to meet it and dove to collect prior to the smallish Motagua star arriving on the scene. Not two minutes later, Cordoba would again have a shot on goal, but it was easily saved by Frei and the match stayed 1-0 going into the half.
Cordoba’s terrorizing of the TFC defense continued after the restart. In the 46th, the striker knocked down a long pass and used a strong first touch to get a step on Attakora. Failing to do so for the entirety of the first, Cordoba got a quality strike on goal, but Frei made a tremendous diving stop to deny the striker.
The Motagua frontman wasn’t done there, as he beat Dan Gargan’s offside trap to receive a nice through ball from Weber and came in alone on Frei. The Cordoba of the first half emerged again, as his attempt on net was beyond pedestrian and barely forced Frei to move.
TFC’s possession began to increase as the half went on, but the chances really weren’t of high value. In the 53rd, a Mendoza foul resulted in a TFC free kick from just over 20 yards out. De Rosario’s delivery was good and Maicon was in position to make contact with a header, yet an adventurous run off of his line by Donaldo Morales allowed the Motagua ‘keeper to punch the ball out of danger. Had he mistimed that effort, he would have been helpless to stop the Toronto men who had begun to assemble in the area from getting to the ball.
In the 55th, De Rosario sent an inviting ball wide to Nick Labrocca. The midfielder raced down the left and had a step on his defender. As he is apt to do at times, Larocca then shot from a sharp angle, well over the goal of Donaldo.
The Reds would find that precious away goal five minutes later. Coming down the right, Maicon split the Motagua defense with a beautiful through ball that was latched onto by De Rosario. Taking two strides, the TFC captain fired low and beat Donaldo, knotting the game at 1-1 and putting TFC back ahead on aggregate.
As expected, the TFC marker resulted in wave after wave of Motagua attack, looking to level the match, but needing two goals to cancel out the Reds’ away marker. They would get one in the 62nd with Guevara coming back to haunt his former club for a second time. With the Reds’ defense dropping back deeply, the 2004 MLS MVP fired a hard strike through a crowd from the edge of the box and past a screened Frei.
Knowing that this still wouldn’t be enough, Motagua would continue its desperate assault forward, but Frei had an answer for everything they threw at him. In the 72nd, a De Rosario turnover afforded Motagua with a 2-0 break in behind the TFC backline. Shannon Welcome, whose cousin is Georgie Welcome, a fellow Motagua striker who is currently on trial with Rangers, fired from a sharp angle and found side netting outside the near post.
Then, in the 75th, Izaguirre, who was a presence on the wing all evening, sent in a spot-on cross to the heart of the of the TFC area. Marcelo Dos Santos muscled his way past his marker and got his outstretched leg to the delivery, but the Brazilian’s diving effort cleared the ball. Not two minutes later, it would be Welcome again, this time with a long range effort, hammering a howitzer from feet outside the box. Frei leapt, with his left arm extended as far as possible, to punch over and curb some of the momentum that was clearly going the hosts’ way. Motagua’s inability to find a way past the Swiss ‘keeper for that priceless third goal would resign them to an unhappy fate in the 79th.
Like he did on TFC’s opening goal, the substitute Maicon would play catalyst again, dinking off a clever backheel in an attempt to spring Chad Barrett. Barrett, the man with the lone goal in last week’s home tie, was momentarily frozen by the intervention of Mendoza, but the Motagua man only managed to deflect the ball back into Barrett’s path. Breaking in alone, Barrett’s low, hard drive took only the slightest of deflections, but that was enough to beat Donaldo and bury Motagua.
Needing two in ten minutes, Motagua again tried to come forward with intent. Their best chance to pull one back came from an Izaguirre cross in the 83rd that was headed onto a completely unmarked Guillermo Diaz from only five feet out, yet somehow the defender managed to head wide. Ramon Maradiaga could only manage to stare at the ground solemnly, as full knowledge that his side had crashed out of the Champions League began to set in.
TFC now advances to what should be a competitive and extremely difficult Group A, featuring perennial Mexican powerhouse and five-time CONCACAF Champions League winners, Cruz Azul, the 2010 Panamanian Clausura champs, Arabe Unido, and a familiar foe in current MLS holders, Real Salt Lake. Things get under way in two weeks time, at home to Cruz Azul. Thoughts of the Champions League group stage will be put on hold, though, as after the long journey back to Toronto, TFC hosts Chivas USA on Saturday afternoon.
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