It was essentially a must-win situation for Toronto FC, as a defeat or even a draw would have put the Reds in dire straits in Group C of the CONCACAF Champions League. For the moment, however, TFC sits second in the group with six points, all of which were collected in two matches against the Panamanian champions.
Toronto looked like the better team in the opening half but didn’t score until Koevermans converted in the 40th minute. Ashtone Morgan sent a cross from the left side that took one bounce off the foot of a charging Ryan Johnson and went back to Peri Marosevic in the box. Marosevic headed the ball forward to Koevermans, who out-jumped both his defender and Tauro goalkeeper Alvaro Anzola to put the ball into the net.
It was Koevermans’ first goal in CCL play and his seventh in 12 games since coming to Toronto. The Dutch striker is coming off a two-goal performance on Saturday in TFC’s 2-1 win over Colorado that earned him the MLS Player Of The Week honours.
“It’s just being at the right place at the right time,” Koevermans said. “There can be a moment later on when the goals don’t come…so for the moment it’s nice and I’m glad that with these goals I make sure that we won. But even if another guy makes a goal, I don’t care, we have to win as a team.
“I stood there and the ball came back on the header from Peri. I just jumped because the ball came and then I saw the keeper coming and I was at the ball sooner than he was.”
Koevermans’ goal was the lone major offensive moment of an overall defensively-stout game that was a far cry from the sloppiness displayed by both teams in the reverse fixture on August 18. TFC managed a 2-1 win in Panama City despite some shaky officiating, physical play on both sides and several cases of “simulation” from Tauro FC players.
Indeed, Tauro again drew a few fouls from apparent dives on Tuesday, but as play pressed on in the second half, it was Tauro who earned the discipline. Three different Tauro players drew bookings within a three-minute span in the second half, and the yellow card issued to Carlos Rodriguez for his rough tackle on Marosevic easily could’ve been a red.
This behaviour could have stemmed from frustration at the club’s lack of penetration against the Reds’ defence. For the second straight game, Torsten Frings was used in a sweeper role, acting as the focal point between centre backs Andy Iro and Ty Harden, while fullbacks Morgan and Richard Eckersley were freed up to head down the sidelines.
The back line held Tauro to just nine shots (three on goal) and TFC coach Aron Winter was pleased at how much better his team looked against the Panamanian side this time around.
“It was a very good victory because we played against an opponent who played completely differently than when we played them in Panama City,” Winter said. “[In the first game], in the first half, even when we weren’t playing well, we scored two goals….This evening they showed also they can play football. Technically they’re very good. We played well against them.”
While Frings has now drifted to the back line as a sweeper and as a proper centre back on several occasions this season, Winter again stated that Frings’ position would be determined on an opponent-by-opponent basis and that ultimately, the German star would return to his usual midfield role. Frings himself says the same, though he is pleased to contribute in any way that he can.
“It’s not my decision, it’s the coach’s decision,” Frings said via an interpreter. “I feel that the team likes that I play back there and we’ve been playing well with me back there. But at the end of the day, I am a midfielder and I’d like to play midfield again in the future.”
Toronto’s midfield may have taken another hit due to an apparent injury suffered by Terry Dunfield. The Canadian international looked to have hurt his shoulder after being fouled in the 73rd minute and had to be removed from the match. With Eric Avila Cup-tied for CCL games and now Dunfield possibly out, the lack of depth in the Reds’ midfield could force Frings to move back up to his natural position.
Tauro had one last chance during stoppage time when Matt Stinson, Dunfield’s substitute, was booked and Tauro were awarded a free kick from just outside the box. On literally the final play of the game, the free kick bounced harmlessly off the wall and the Reds had the three points.
TFC improved to 7-3-3 over its last 13 games in all competitions and now sit second in Group C with six points, though FC Dallas (seven points) and Pumas UNAM (four points) have a game at hand tomorrow night.
A Dallas victory would clinch the Hoops a top-two spot in the group and they would book their spot in the CCL quarter-finals. That would probably be the preferred result for the Reds, since it would mean that Dallas would likely rest some regulars when the two teams meet in their final group match on Oct. 18 in Frisco, Tex.
The Reds hit the road for a league game against Chivas USA on Saturday, and then resume their Champions League schedule on Tuesday against Pumas at BMO Field. Toronto suffered a 4-0 defeat to Pumas when the two sides met in Mexico City on September 14 and TFC is eager to make up for that poor result.
“I think all the lads want to redeem what happened in Mexico,” Eckersley said. “It’s massive, especially with the crowd behind you. There’s no altitude and hopefully we’ll have fresher legs from not traveling. We’re not going to take it for granted and give it everything we have.”