Home CONCACAF Plata leads Toronto FC to historic CCL triumph over FC Dallas

Plata leads Toronto FC to historic CCL triumph over FC Dallas

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Joao Plata
Move over, Miracle in Montreal. Goodbye to the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship win over the Whitecaps. Sayonara to the Danny Dichio opener and that first-ever MLS win.

With a 3-0 triumph on the road over FC Dallas Tuesday in a must-win finale to the CONCACAF Champions League group stage, Toronto FC has a new franchise-best game. With the result, the Reds are guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League — a place where no Canadian club has been since the Montreal Impact got there in 2009.

On a night when TFC shone brighter than ever before, it was a five-foot-two Ecuadorean who was the power source. Joao Plata set up Danny Koevermans first-half opener, then buried FCD with two wonderful second-half strikes.

Under coach and technical director, Toronto FC has done what it has failed to do in the past — win a clutch game on the road. The coach made sure to rest Koevermans and central midfielder Julian de Guzman, who was a fiery general on Tuesday, in a meaningless MLS match last Saturday — and gave Plata just enough time on the pitch to get a feel for game action as he recovered from injury. Every decision Winter made — on Saturday and Tuesday — was the right one.

“We really didn’t have a lot of quality chances except for the free kicks,” admitted Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman after the game. “They were just completely terrorizing us and winning a lot of balls in the midfield. And if you say we’re tired, yeah, we looked tired. We haven’t played any more games than they have. That’s the reality. They’ve had as many games as we’ve had, and they didn’t look tired tonight.”

And, as impressive as TFC was in scoring three goals on the road (albeit in front of a crowd at Pizza Hut Park that was comparable to the small numbers that saw the two teams battle at BMO Field on a weekday morning after the previous night’s match was washed away) it was more impressive in how it prevented FC Dallas from mounting many serious attacks.

While there are the many Toronto FC fans who champion the work of on-loan Englishman Richard Eckersley — who may have got the start Tuesday if not for injury — Henry showed that he is the long-term option for this club.

On the left side, defender Ashtone Morgan was a force going forward and back.

In fact, it was Morgan’s diagonal pass that began the sequence that led to the Reds’ first goal. He flashed a ball through the heart of the Dallas defence, which Plata took deep down the left flank. He was able to push the ball in front of goal for Koevermans. His first attempt was blocked by defender George John — but, the Dutch striker stuck with the chance and swept home the rebound.

Plata sent two chances wide of the post in the first half — or else this one could have been over after 45 minutes.

But TFC sealed the points on a second-half counter attack; Ryan Johnson and Plata streaked forward, and Johnson played a simple square ball for the Ecuadorean to ram home.

Plata added insult to injury when he slammed home a chance after he cut in from the left, mesmerizing the Dallas defence. Or was the home team simply too shellshocked to care.

“If Toronto had had that kind of performance all season, they wouldn’t be finishing the season up this weekend,” said Hyndman. “I thought they came to play. I thought they played unselfishly. They bought into the system. They were physical. They did everything they needed to do.”

It’s hard to remember that FCD opened this tournament with a win in Mexico over Pumas UNAM; after that result, it would have been hard to imagine that last year’s MLS Cup runner-up would struggle through the remainder of the group stage. A loss to Panamanian side Tauro opened the door for Toronto FC. And, on Tuesday, the Reds took full advantage, on a night that — until the CCL quarter-finals begin in the March 6-8 window — will go down as the best in club history.

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