Home CONCACAF Johnson’s two strikes help TFC progress in CONCACAF Champions League

Johnson’s two strikes help TFC progress in CONCACAF Champions League

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Ryan Johnson

Two great moments of indivual skill from Ryan Johnson ensured that Toronto FC’s CONCACAF Champions League campaign will continue into the group stages.

Johnson, the forward who couldn’t buy a goal in San Jose, has arguably been the brightest of the many additions TFC technical director and coach Aron Winter has made to the club over the last month. He’s been energetic and has helped create a large number of scoring chances through a combination of speed and smarts on the field.

But, on Tuesday, he went from being the provider to the finisher; his two strikes gave TFC a 2-1 win over Real Esteli in Nicaragua, and a 4-2 triumph on aggregate in their CONCACAF Champions League qualifying series.

Playing in the jungle that passed for a grass pitch in Nicaragua, TFC took the early initiative, still managing to play some semblance of a possession game despite the playing surface. The ball bounced crazily between hard and soft spots on a field that looked like it mowed less often than most community pitches you’d find here in Canada.

The only exception? Striker Javier Martina, who Winter yanked in the 34th minute — replacing him with midfielder Matt Stinson. Martina was a step behind the pace of the game — and he got the Maicon Santos treatment; remember that the Brazilian forward, traded earlier in the day, was subbed off in the first half two weeks ago in a loss to Sporting Kansas City.

Soon after Esteli striker Rudel Calero blasted a chance over the bar, Johnson quieted the crowd. Peri Marosevic, added to the TFC lineup this week, challenged an Esteli defender for a long, lofted ball. The defender got to it first, but the ball bounced towards Johnson, who took it on one bounce and then rocketed a left-footed effort into the roof of the Esteli goal. It could be TFC’s goal of the season.

But the Reds were still sweating — just before the stroke of halftime, a bouncing shot from Calero hopped up and hit TFC defender Andy Iro on the arm. Manuel Rosas converted the penalty, giving Reds’ keeper Milos Kocic no chance.

Kocic, who made a mistake that led to a vital Esteli road goal last week, was given a vote of confidence by Winter — who decided to give the back-up a chance to atone for his mistake.

Five minutes into the second half, Johnson drove the stake through Esteli’s heart. He intercepted a terrible goal-kick clearance, then calmly dispatched a left-footed shot inside the post. The second road goal gave Esteli and impossible mountain to climb, and clinched the tie.

Johnson now gives TFC, which isn’t a factor in the MLS playoff race, something to build on — while TFC has 10 MLS games left in which to play out the string, the CCL allows Winter the chance to gives his new charges real, passionate, meaningful games where they can test their mettle.

Just three days after TFC drew Portland 2-2 in MLS play, the club earned a spot in the CCL group stages. It will open its group-stage campaign with a trip to Panama Aug. 18 to face Tauro. It will host the winner of the FC Dallas-Alianza series on Aug. 24 — FC Dallas won the first leg in El Salvador by a 1-0 count, so the MLS Cup finalist should be joining TFC.

FC Dallas decided not to play Eric Avila in that win, meaning that the midfielder will not be Cup-tied for the CONCACAF Champions League when he joins Toronto FC. In fact, the fact Dallas withdrew him from the lineup and left him on the bench for Alianza was a hint that the trade that sent him to Toronto earlier Tuesday was on.

TV talk

The game was supposed to air at 10 p.m. ET on Rogers Sportsnet One, but a late-running baseball game between Texas and Detroit bumped the start time. So, fans watching the feed from Fox Soccer Channel were watching live, while others angrily waited for Sportsnet to kick off its broadcast.

The Detroit-Texas game was filler material, which was only on because the Boston Red Sox broadcast that Sportsnet had planned to show was wiped away because of rain.

TFC fans went into a Twitter rage over the fact that there was no room at the inn for the CCL game on any of the five Sportsnet stations at 10 p.m.

Sportsnet’s official Twitter feed acknowledged the fact that the broadcast wasn’t handled well.

“Thanks to everyone for the feedback, we will look into how we handle these issues in the future.”

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