[CONCACAF CHAMPION LEAGUE] The least-regarded of five MLS entrants -- and the lone Canadian participant -- in the Concacaf Champions League is the only one to
reach the semifinals.
Toronto FC stunned the Galaxy, 2-1, in the second leg of their quarterfinal series Wednesday night at Home Depot Center to eliminate Los Angeles, 4-3, on aggregate.
Ryan Johnson and Nick Soolsma created goals for each other; Soolsma’s strike offset a Ty Harden own goal that briefly tied the aggregate, 3-3, which would have advanced the Galaxy on away goals.
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Soolsma curled a cross that Johnson headed home in the 34th minute for a 3-2 aggregate lead. Harden accidentally steered a Landon Donovan cross to tie the game, 1-1, 10 minutes into the second half. TFC, undaunted, pushed back and got its reward midway through the second half when Johnson shrugged off a tackle and hit a low centering ball that Soolsma stabbed into the net.
In the semifinals, Toronto plays Santos Laguna, which blasted Seattle, 6-1, in the second leg of their quarterfinal series to win, 7-3, on aggregate.
Los Angeles rode a stingy defense and opportunist attack to claim the 2011 Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, but the league’s glamour team lagged against Toronto FC, which had prevailed in the group stage at the expense of FC Dallas to reach the CCL quarterfinals. TFC drew more than 47,000 fans to the first leg at Rogers Centre last week, a 2-2 tie.
In addition to the goalscorers, heroes abounded for TFC. Keeper Milos Kocic pulled off critical saves, Torsten Frings and Julian de Guzman marshaled a midfield that blunted Los Angeles for long periods, and a stout red line of defenders conceded only that own goal.
In the opening minutes, Buddle shot over the crossbar and two minutes later controlled a ball with his arm before banging it into the net. Kocic stoned Mike Magee after he’d beaten the TFC offside trap. In the 27th minute, Magee broke through to slot the ball into the net with Buddle in an offside position and officials wrongly disallowed the goal.
Soolsma, who missed the first leg through suspension, set up the first goal when he lifted a diagonal cross from the right side of midfield to the back post, where Johnson glided behind rookie defender Tommy Meyer to head the ball past keeper Josh Saunders. Also absent was Sean Franklin, who as the outside back on that side shares some responsibility for protecting the far post on a cross from the opposite side.
Donovan hit the deck in the 43rd minute under a challenge in the penalty area after he’d laid off a ball for Franklin, whose shot was blocked. Referee Roberto Moreno pointed to the corner flag rather than the penalty spot, and thus TFC reached halftime with a one-goal lead in the game as well as the series.
Increased Galaxy pressure created chances early in the second half. A sprawling block by Kocic in the 52nd minute denied Robbie Keane on the doorstep after a Magee flick landed in the Irishman’s path. Three minutes later Donovan broke free on the right flank and his low square ball, intended for Keane knifing at the far post, was instead steered into the net by Harden’s sliding attempt to clear it.
Los Angeles had blown a 1-0 lead in its league match Saturday against Real Salt Lake at HDC, to lose, 3-1, and once again it couldn’t hold onto the result it had achieved. After Soolsma’s goal regained the lead, TFC showed the league’s top defensive team last year how to preserve an advantage.
Kocic stymied Keane in the 74th minute when a ball from Donovan slipped the striker clean through. Kocic crouched low, kept his feet, and waited until Keane attempted a chip that the keeper swatted away with his right glove. In the final 20 minutes, Moreno waved off two Galaxy appeals for apparent handballs in the TFC penalty area, and a disjointed Galaxy attack petered out with wayward passes and aimless runs.
March 14 in Carson, Calif.
Los Angeles 1, Toronto FC 2. Goals: Own goal (Harden) 55; Johnson (Soolsma) 34, Soolsma (Johnson) 67.
Toronto FC -- Kocic, Eckersley, Harden, Aceval, Ashtone, Frings, de Guzman (Silva, 63), Johnson, Soolsma, Koevermans (Maund, 69), Plata (Dunfield, 46).
Los Angeles -- Saunders, Franklin (Keat, 72), DeLaGarza, Meyer (Barrett, 84), Dunivant, Juninho, Magee (Cardozo, 73), Beckham, Keane, Buddle, Donovan.
Referee: R. Moreno