Joao Plata leads Toronto FC to Victory Over Real Estelí F.C.

Joao Plata is congratulated by his teammates after his first goal

Backup Keeper Milos Kocic Gifts Goal to Nicaraguan Club

Joao Plata is congratulated by his teammates after his first goal

Toronto FC is finally back in the win column after a dominating 2-1 victory over Nicaraguan club Real Estelí F.C. on Wednesday night at BMO Field. A sparse crowd of just 9,241 witnessed diminutive striker Joao Plata lift his club by scoring two second half goals in the first leg of the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL).

Toronto was relentless in its attack from beginning to end, outshooting Estelí 22-7 and 9-3 with shots on target. A goalkeeping blunder by backup ‘keeper Milos Kocic in the 80th minute gifted Estelí a valuable away goal. The Nicaraguan club is extremely lucky to be in the position that it is heading back home. TFC could have easily won the game by a wider margin had the team converted more of its chances.

“A very good game,” said TFC Head Coach and Technical Director, Aron Winter. “We won 2-1 and if you watched the first and second half, with the opportunities we had, the score needed to be more. We were unlucky at the end and gave away a goal because at that moment we were doing very well.”

Plata, who has started many games this season, came off the bench as a second-half substitute – a move by Winter to keep the youngster grounded.

“It’s his age, he has his ups and downs and the last weeks he’s been a little bit down and the moment he came on the pitch he reacted well, very well.”

Torsten Frings, who was wearing the armband and captain for the match was also impressed with Plata.Torsten Frings gives chase to Estelí's Elmer Mejía

“I feel he came into the game very aggressive and very strong, scored two beautiful goals,” said Frings through an interpreter. “He just needs to keep working as a player and grow into an even better player than he is. I was very happy with him.”

Frings, however, was not pleased with how TFC has given up so many goals since he has joined the club.

“I feel the team needs to work on receiving less goals in total," said Frings. “This team is not as strong as other teams from the MLS, so we just have to work harder, practice that more and that we have less goals scored on us.”

“I feel already today that we played a better short game – not the kick and run. I feel that we just need to grow stronger as a team together. We just have to focus more on playing the game than just the basic kick and run game in that sense.”

Winter offered his thoughts on Frings wearing the armband and his potential of being the future long-term captain of the club.

“I think that he could be a very good captain,” said Winter. To be a captain it’s not only because you are wearing an armband, but he is still a leader and you see that on the pitch. I think that he doesn’t need it but the way he is playing and the way he is helping all the young players, you could see today on the pitch that he is a born leader.”

Plata Braces TFC to Victory

Coach WinTFC Head Coach and Technical Director Aron Winterter employed a game plan to exploit TFC’s obvious height advantage over Estelí by playing wide and sending balls into the box from the flanks. Nick Soolsma and Ashtone Morgan were catalysts from each end of the field sending in long crosses into the box for available headers. Koevermans and Johnson were consistently able to get their heads to the ball, and until Plata’s heroics, it seemed as though TFC would eventually make one of the headers count.

“We saw the way they play and we play the way we want to play against them to beat them,” said Winter. “The early cross from the beginning because of the offence – you got Johnson, Koevermans – and that’s why for me you have to give the cross.”

Much like the entire game, the first half belonged to Toronto as the team pushed forward applying relentless pressure. Johnson and Koevermans were able to flick many headers towards goal but were either thwarted by Estelí ‘keeper Carlos Mendieta or were off-target. Estelí offered very little resistance and simply clogged the penalty area with bodies once it realized TFC’s long ball approach in the game.

Toronto’s fortunes changed in the second half when Plata came on in the 49th minute for Gianluca Zavarise. In the 51st minute, the diminutive forward chipped a ball into the box that was just out of Johnson’s reach but still tested the Estelí ‘keeper. The ball had a lot of spin on it, but Mendieta was able to get down and make a good save.

In the 56th minute, a deflected cross from Soolsma landed at Plata’s feet inside the left side of Estelí’s penalty area. He went one-on-one with Felix Rodriguez and shook him off with ease before knocking the ball past a sliding defender Jaime Ruiz and Mendieta. The terrific individual effort by Plata gave TFC the much deserved 1-0 advantage.Plata celebrates his second goal by the TFC bench and hugs goalkeeper Stefan Frei

In the 64th minute, Soolsma and Johnson connected once again but Mendieta dove to his right to make another great save to keep his team in the game. Two minutes later, an attempted cross from Morgan actually went at goal and Mendieta had to be sharp again as he barely tipped the ball over the goal.

In the 71st minute, TFC’s Matthew Stinson was dragged down just outside the box and Lopez was booked with a yellow card leading to a freekick for the homeside. Plata and Frings lined up for the set piece, but Plata called for it. He calmly curled the ball over the wall and into the top corner of the net in a spectacular strike from 25 yards out. His second goal of the game was a bullet and prettier than his first. It was so well-placed that Mendieta had no chance to make the save and put TFC comfortably ahead 2-0.

Estelí got a goal back on Kocic’s terrible giveaway in the 80th minute. Defender Richard Eckersley and Kocic both gave chase to a loose ball, just right of the Toronto goal. The TFC keeper rolled over the ball and it squirted loose right to substitute Alesandro Calero who put the ball into the gaping net. It will be one of the easiest goals that Calero will ever score in his career and closed the gap to 2-1, but it would be as close as Estelí would get.

Kocic was visibly upset after the game and he felt he let his teammates down. As the final whistle sounded, Winter along with Assistant Coach Bob de Klerk and first ‘keeper Stefan Frei immediately walked over to Kocic to offer words of encouragement.

“Well what I said to him was normal,” added Winter. “He was upset, because with the 2-1 result he didn’t like it because it was his fault and he was a little bit down. Until that moment the team was doing very well and after that they were also doing very well. You have to bring him in and put an arm around him to say ‘listen these things happen and that’s football’. All those things can happen but you still played well.”

Real Estelí celebrate it's only goal as Frings (centre) looks on in disbeliefKocic was appreciative of the support bud did admit that he was still feeling down.

“That’s very nice, when your teammate and coaches give you support,” said Kocic who was playing in his first game of the year. “I’ve been working very hard the whole year and never did anything to disappoint anybody and today it was a mistake and these things happen. I just want to apologize to fans and the team for the mistake, but mistakes happen, it’s sport. I’m down right now but I will not be down tomorrow. I have to keep my head up and work hard and make sure that it doesn’t happen next time.”

Toronto will quickly shift its focus back to league play as the team heads back out on the road for its first franchise visit to Portland against the expansion Timbers. Kickoff is at 11pm ET at Jeld-Wen Field.  From there the club will travel to Nicaragua for the second leg of the CCL at Estelí’s Estadio Independencia next Tuesday with kickoff at 10pm ET.

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Photos courtesy of Karan Vyas

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