Home Global Game CONCACAF Santos Laguna scores two late goals to all but seal TFC’s CCL fate

Santos Laguna scores two late goals to all but seal TFC’s CCL fate

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Not that Toronto FC didn’t already know they were cursed in the final minutes of games, but the universe is just rubbing it in when a black cat literally runs through your goal area. Sure enough, soon after the feline intruder appeared on the pitch, TFC conceded two late scores and ended up with a 3-1 loss to Santos Laguna that all but ends their hopes of another run to the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage.

Bad luck wasn’t to blame for the outcome, given that Santos drastically outshot the Reds (11-1 in shots on goal and 22-12 overall) and could’ve found those two goals earlier were it not for the heroics of TFC goalkeeper Freddy Hall. Still, Toronto was close to escaping with a point against their heavily-favoured opponents before things fell apart in the 90th minute.

“There’s no way that was a 3-1 game,” said TFC head coach Paul Mariner. “I thought we were a little tentative in the first half and in the second half we played much better… We matched them for 89 minutes.”

In that final minute, Laguna’s Daniel Luduena started the play by carrying the ball past an over-committed Torsten Frings, and then after Luduena passed and got the ball right back, the midfielder ran around three defenders and shot the ball past Hall for what ended up as the winning goal.

Two minutes later it was Luduena again who sent a cross across the box to a wide-open Candido Ramirez on the left side. Ramirez had all manner of time to line up his shot and fire it past a defenceless Hall.

The three goals allowed obscured a fine performance from Hall, who made eight saves and kept his side in the game. The goalkeeper not only had a highlight-reel dive to drop a hard Luduena shot in the 13th minute, but Hall also looked good on a couple of dangerous redirections from short range inside the box.

Hall wasn’t to blame for Santos’s first goal either, a bit of individual brilliance from Darwin Quintero in the 49th minute that saw the Colombian striker overcome both a sliding Darren O’Dea and a tough angle on net to fire home the opening score. Combined with his hat trick against Aguila on August 21, Quintero now has four goals in Santos’ first two games in CCL group play.

PHOTO: HEFEBREO
PHOTO: HEFEBREO

TFC’s attack was slow to develop, as starting forward Eric Hassli was clearly struggling at moving up and down the pitch. Hassli was plagued with back spasms over the last week, but Mariner said that Hassli was hampered by a rib injury.

“He got walloped quite regularly in the previous MLS games,” Mariner said. “There’s no protection whatsoever. He tried to play for us but he couldn’t.”

Hassli’s condition wasn’t helped by a few rough tackles from Santos defenders, who were rarely called for fouls in a fairly one-sided game from referee Walter Lopez. The official often ruled against TFC on everything from fouls awarded to corners, to even a pair of questionable bookings to O’Dea and Terry Dunfield.

“If I start talking about referees, we’ll be here until doomsday,” Mariner said. “It is what it is, you’ve got to get on with it…It does get frustrating, no doubt about it.”

Hassli was substituted out at halftime for Quincy Amarikwa, who had a tough near-miss when he put the ball off the post in the 51st minute but atoned for it later in the half. Following a Frings free kick in the 68th minute, the ball took two bounces before falling out to Amarikwa, who fired a right-footed shot through traffic in front of the net that got through for the equalizer.

The goal sparked the Reds’ best stretch of the game, as TFC pressed ahead for the go-ahead strike while Hall came up with more big saves to keep the score tied. Things really seemed to be going Toronto’s way when a dangerous chance for Santos in front of Hall resulted in a ball off the goalpost.

Rather than a good break for TFC, midfielder Andrew Wiedeman felt Santos’ near-miss was a harbinger of the oncoming late pressure.

“That probably should’ve been a wake-up call for us. Unfortunately we didn’t take it too seriously, and then they came down and got that [second] goal,” Wiedeman said. “It was a really good game for 89 minutes. Then, in that last minute and stoppage time, it gave us problems. I think everyone in there felt like we could’ve gotten the win. We got that goal, had the momentum going and were really pressuring their goal but it didn’t come off.”

There was also the matter of the black cat, but its appearance was more a source of amusement than of superstition.

“I’ve got a black cat at home, I love black cats,” joked Mariner. “For the record, it’s a she, and it’s named Stuart, after Stuart Pearce.”

All three teams in Group A have now played two games and as expected, Santos is on top. Santos Laguna leads with six points, while Toronto FC has three and Aguila has zero. Aguila still has two home games in San Miguel but given its 0-2 record and -9 goal differential, the Salvadoran champions aren’t expected to put up much resistance when Santos and TFC visit on Sept. 19 and 25, respectively.

That leaves the Reds’ Oct. 24 date at Estadio Corona as their last faint chance to win the group, and TFC would need not just a win, but in all likelihood a win by at least three or four goals. Such a result would be the upset of the year — the last time TFC visited Santos Laguna, the Reds suffered a 6-2 loss that knocked them out of last year’s CCL semi-finals.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us now, doing down to El Salvador and down to Mexico,” Wiedeman said. “It’s kind of looming that we don’t have to only get results but get lots of goals in the process. It’s a lot tougher this year with only three teams in a group.

“We’ve put ourselves in a deep hole now.”

 

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