Toronto FC Fight to Draw with Santos Laguna in First Leg of CCL Semifinal

Santos Laguna forward Christian Suarez attempts to move the ball in between Toronto FC defender Richard Eckersley and midfielder Nick Soolsma. Both teams played to a draw in front of 18,950 fans at BMO Field in Toronto (Karan Vyas)

Mexican Club Gets Two Ejections as Frustrations Boil Over in Post-game Scuffle 

Santos Laguna forward Christian Suarez attempts to move the ball in between Toronto FC defender Richard Eckersley and midfielder Nick Soolsma. Both teams played to a draw in front of 18,950 fans at BMO Field in Toronto (Karan Vyas)Toronto FC did not seem to have a chance heading into the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal. Being outscored 6-1 in back-to-back losses in MLS and without captain Torsten Frings and goalkeeper Stefen Frei due to long-term injuries had many writing the team off.

Meanwhile Santos Laguna was in fine form sitting atop of Mexico’s first division, but the Reds bounced back in fine fashion, playing step for step against the tough Mexican club to battle to a 1-1 draw at BMO Field.

“Yes a big difference, today we were really a team and I thought also that if we play like this, like a team we play very well. That’s the big difference,” said Toronto Head Coach and Technical Director Aron Winter.

“I think that a draw is not a bad result but we deserve more. If you watch the whole game we had opportunities to make two goals and they scored from nothing. At that moment, we were not sharp and I think a victory would have been good but a draw is also good.”

The game had many storylines and was an exciting match from beginning to end Santos had two ejections including one that emptied the benches after the final whistle and nearly led to a brawl. Cooler heads prevailed after a lot of intense pushing and shoving.

TFC keeper Milos Kocic makes a big save on Darwin Quintero in the 12th minute after a defender mishit the ball. Quintero was given a red card at the final whistle for head butting Ashtone Morgan and will be suspended for the second leg (Karan Vyas) There were different accounts as to what happened at the end of the match with TFC defender claiming that he was head butted by Darwin Quintero after challenging for a ball and the play had already moved down field.

“I don’t know. I just turned around and got a little head butt,” said Morgan. “It hurt so I went down and the red card happened and there was a big scruffle at the end of it.”

“Both of us were just trying to win the ball, frustration and it just happened.”

But Santos striker Herculez Gomez, who opened the scoring, said it was Morgan who instigated the bad blood.

“Yeah I saw exactly what happened. It’s a shame – you don’t want to see things like that. Classic – a guy takes a swing and the guy who reacts gets caught,” said Gomez. “I saw him strike him in the face, the guy who was on the ground. The guy who acted like he got hit…it’s a shame that the other guy went down like he got shot.”

“That’s pretty much it. After that both teams are defending their players.”

Morgan responded to those comments by simply pointing to the evidence – a small bump on his forehead.

“You can see it,” said Morgan. “I turned around and we’re looking at each other, boom…it was face-to-face…I was stunned by it and I went down.”

“I was on the ground and then everybody came in. I had to get up and protect myself.”

Both teams emptied its benches after a final whistle and a melee resulted in front of the TFC goal. Quintero, who was ejected at the whistle, was angered while TFC came to the defence of Morgan (Karan Vyas)

Seeing Red

Santos striker Herculez Gomez goal fires his first half goal while eluding a tackle from Julian de Guzman (Karan Vyas)Gomez opened the scoring in the 31st minute after taking a pass from Quintero and making a nice run before slotting the ball past Milos Kocic. It was Gomez’s ninth goal in seven matches in all competitions.

The Reds responded on a freekick minutes later when defender Miguel Aceval drilled a shot around the wall and pastSantoskeeper Oswaldo Sanchez to tie the game.

Moments before Aceval scored, Danny Koevermans was issued a yellow card for trying to take the freekick quickly but did so before the referee blew his whistle. He will now miss the second leg due to card accumulation. He was also booked in the first leg of the quarterfinal against LA Galaxy.

Both teams exchanged quality chances within minutes in the second half. First Ryan Johnson in the 63rd minute deftly deflects a cross at goal but Sanchez gets a thumb to the ball and it rolls just past the far post.

Just over two minutes later, Gomez chases down a long ball overtop but Kocic stormed out of the goal to make the save. The Santos striker collided with the TFC keeper suffering a knock and was taken out of the game as a precaution.

In the 72nd minute Terry Dunfield got on the end of a freekick deep into the box but knocked the ball just wide of the goal.

Soolsma made a great spin move to get past two Santos players before firing just wide into the side netting in the 67th minute (Karan Vyas)Santos defender Osmar Mares was given a straight red card in the 77th minute for a studs up tackle on Richard Eckersley. The TFC defender was left with a gash on his leg as a result. Despite playing with an extra man the rest of the match, Toronto was unable to capitalize against 10-man Santos and the game ended in a draw.

Seeing how the first leg was full of intensity and tempers flaring up at the end of the match, the return leg in Mexicopromises to be an exciting affair. Gomez issued a stern warning to TFC in his post-game comments.

“I don’t know how much you guys know about our home crowd and the city we live in but it’s probably not the smartest idea picking a dogfight,” said Gomez.

“Yeah, we’ll see what happens.”

Having played in Mexico before TFC’s stand in captain Julian de Guzman knows exactly what to expect when the scene switches to the industrial northern city of Torreón next Wednesday.

“They already warned us that it is going to be a war over there and we know that ourselves,” said de Guzman. “We’ve already had that experience playing in Cruz Azul and Pumas, we know what type of atmosphere it’s going to be over there and now we kind of sparked up some more fire after this game for these guys. 

“It’s what you want as well, we are ready for it, we are looking forward to it and the guys are going to be prepared.”

The second leg will be played at Estadio Corona on April 4 with kickoff at 8 p.m. ET.

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Photos courtesy of Karan Vyas 

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