[CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Toronto's hopes of the MLS playoffs faded away many weeks ago, yet it doggedly persevered in the Concacaf Champions League and Tuesday night earned a spot in the quarterfinals by shocking FC Dallas, 3-0, at Pizza Hut Park.
Rather than a game of two halves, the FC Dallas-Toronto FC group finale turned out to be a game of two mindsets.
FC Dallas, needing only a tie to advance, didn’t come out to win, and didn’t. TFC needed to win, and did.
A first-half goal by Danny Koevermans and two second-half insurance tallies by Joao Plata propelled TFC past FCD, 3-0, and into the CCL quarterfinals. TFC (3-2-1, 10 pts.) temporarily took over first place in Group D; regardless of the outcome of the final group game Wednesday when UNAM plays Tauro FC, TFC cannot finish lower than second.
FC Dallas (2-3-1) started its CCL campaign with a historic 1-0 defeat of Pumas in Mexico City, the first victory by an MLS club in Mexico. Though it lost its last three CCL games, a tie against TFC would have been enough, since both would finish with eight points and FCD held the tiebreaker edge by virtue of its 1-0 win at BMO Field in the second round of group play.
Toronto FC started strongly, with Plata and Nick Soolsma working the flanks to open up space in the middle for Koevermans. After about 25 minutes, Plata broke through on the left but rather than squaring the ball for Koevermans, he took the shot himself and hit the side netting outside the post. Koevermans remonstrated and Plata got the message.
In the 28th minute Plata came down the wing again and this time veered to the goal line, from where he cut the ball back to Koevermans at the near spot. The Dutchman scuffed his initial shot but the ball popped up near him, and he banged home the second chance.
FCD’s attack flowed through Jackson, Brek Shea and Marvin Chavez, but they and Ricardo Villar weren’t incisive enough to break down a solid TFC effort led by midfielder Torsten Frings and defenders Andy Iro and Ty Harden. Once the ball was won, it often went out to Julian de Guzman, whose quick passes through midfield gave the TFC attackers clear runs at the Dallas defenders.
Another attack down the left side yielded the second goal and the match in the 69th minute. Plata back-heeled the ball to Ryan Johnson, who turned inside to center the ball past two opponents for Plata to side-foot it into the net. Plata got his second goal of the night and fourth of the tournament in the 81st minute by bending a shot past keeper Kevin Hartman from the edge of the penalty area.
Following the Montreal Impact (2008-9), TFC – which had beaten Dallas only once in 11 previous meetings -- is the second Canadian team to reach the CCL quarterfinal phase, which starts in March. Group play concludes Thursday with several of the eight spots still unclaimed.