In arguably the most important match in their five-year history, Toronto FC came up with definitively their best performance in a complete and thorough 3–0 demolition of FC Dallas to reach the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals for the first time.
Diminutive Ecuadorian winger Joao Plata delivered the goods with a two-goal and one-assist performance.
TFC simply competed harder, fought harder, and showed more desire than their more accomplished opposition. Toronto had only beaten Dallas once prior to Tuesday night, and that was back in 2007. They had lost seven times and drawn three times.
“Huge achievement,” defender Andy Iro said in an interview on GolTV Canada. “The coaches drew up a really good game plan. With three goals and a clean sheet, we’re very happy.”
The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals are uncharted territory for the club that was eliminated in the group stage last year and that has never made it to the MLS playoffs.
The Reds were coming off an encouraging 1–1 draw on the road against the Philadelphia last Saturday. They fell behind in the first half, but regrouped in the second half and got a draw against a playoff-bound team.
Meanwhile, Dallas continued their revival by besting the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday 2–0. The win was their second in a row after a bizarre five-game losing streak (in all competitions). Last year’s MLS Cup finalists were without striker Fabian Castillo and defender Jair Benitez who both picked up red cards in the low-point of the FC Dallas season—a 5–3 loss to Tauro in Panama.
In front of a sparse crowd in Dallas, Toronto FC fans could certainly be heard supporting their team.
Toronto FC quickly found their footing in the match and started to take control of the midfield. After firing a shot just wide of net in the first minute of play, Plata continued to pester FC Dallas down the left flank.
Toronto’s goal scoring hero Danny Koevermans gave the visitors the lead off a well-executed counterattack. Plata did the hard work dribbling down to the goal line before cutting a pass back into the path of Koevermans. Koevermans fanned on his first shot with the left foot before spinning and firing a right-footer past Kevin Hartman in the 28th minute.
TFC also defended the attacks of Brek Shea quite effectively. With an inexperienced back line featuring academy products Ashtone Morgan and Doneil Henry playing the full back positions, Toronto more than kept it together. Iro provided the muscle and Ty Harden showed terrific determination in running down speedy FC Dallas forwards and jockeying them effectively.
Toronto FC has had a problem hanging on to leads but the second half was an example of a good offense being the best form of defense.
An evenly matched second half turned in Toronto FC’s favor when Ryan Johnson ran onto a flicked pass, cut in at the top of the 18-yard box and rolled a nice pass to Plata. Plata calmly slotted the ball through Hartman’s legs giving visiting TFC an improbable 2–0 lead.
Dallas’s threats were well marshaled by Toronto FC. Jackson’s header over the bar in the 74th minute was perhaps their best chance.
Johnson nearly got on the scoresheet himself when he put a Soolsma cross high over the bar in the 75th minute.
Toronto was growing in confidence in the second half, as Dallas seemed devoid of ideas.
Terry Dunfield came on for Julian de Guzman in the 80th minute. One Canadian replaced another Canadian hoping to do a similar job. And shortly after that, Plata did it all himself.
Plata put the game on ice, stealing the ball off Jackson, racing in on Hartman and then making his trademark cut to the right before finding the net with a low drive.
CONCACAF Champions League is the most prestigious club tournament in North America and the winner of the tournament can get the chance to face off against the likes of Barcelona or Manchester United in the FIFA Club World Cup. Quarterfinal play in CONCACAF Champions League begins in March.
The win over FC Dallas is proof positive that Toronto FC is heading in the right direction in a rebuilding year.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports