TFC hoping for another ‘Montreal Miracle’ in Concacaf Champions League

Toronto-FC

Toronto FC face a big task in this week's second-leg match in the Concacaf Champions League. (Arnulfo Franco/AP)

TORONTO – It was a long time ago, and Toronto FC was a very different team.

TFC faces a massive mountain to climb in Tuesday’s Concacaf Champions League match against Club Atletico Independiente de la Chorrera at BMO Field. The Reds lost 4-0 in Panama last week in first leg of this round-of-16 series, which means they have to win the return match by at least five goals in order to advance to the quarterfinals.

Is this “Mission Impossible” for TFC? On the surface, yes. But Toronto has been here before, having faced similar circumstances in the 2009 Canadian Championship. Long before they won an MLS Cup and boasted star Designated Players, the Reds were a struggling side made up of rag-tag journeymen who inspired little confidence. But they overcame a huge deficit to win the first trophy in franchise history courtesy of the “Montreal Miracle.”

In 2009, the Canadian Championship was a round-robin competition involving TFC, and the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps, who both competed at the time in the second-tier United Soccer League. Toronto was in second place in the tournament, behind Vancouver, going into the final game. On the road in Montreal, TFC needed to win by four goals in order to beat out the Whitecaps on goal difference and lift the Voyageurs Cup.

Few, if anybody, gave Toronto much of a chance.

“We’d been written off, because I think we’d [previously] lost in Vancouver, and we needed to go to Montreal and score four goals. I don’t think we’d scored more than three or four goals in our history. No one gave us a chance, [but] I said to the guys, “Miracles do happen,
‘” former TFC midfielder Carl Robinson told Sportsnet in a 2017 interview.

Montreal was already eliminated and they had a regular-season game against Vancouver scheduled in a few days. With nothing to play for, Impact coach Marc Dos Santos fielded a “B team.” Still, Montreal took a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute with Tony Donatelli converting from the penalty spot after TFC defender Nick Garcia brought down Montreal forward Peter Byers inside the box. Toronto now had to score five times without conceding.

“We were creating opportunities, so even when Montreal scored, we never panicked. We knew that the tactics of the day were to get the ball, get it into the box, get the ball into me and then feed off of me. We had [forward Dwayne De Rosario] floating around. We were really putting them on the back foot after they scored that first goal. They looked very wobbly at the back. It was just a sense of we could do something,” former TFC forward Danny Dichio recalled.

De Rosario started things off for Toronto, burying a fantastic bicycle kick past former TFC goalkeeper Srdjan Djekanovic in the 29th minute and then scored again in the 39th to put the Reds up 2-1 at halftime.

“Serge was in net, a young goalkeeper, and one of the things we figured was we had to get in his head early. We have to bully him a little bit. He was great guy, a lovely fellow, who was with us [during the 2007 MLS] season. But when you’re on the field, the friendship goes out the window,” former Toronto defender Jim Brennan said.

De Rosario completed his hat trick in the 49th, slipping one past Djekanovic after beating Montreal’s offside trap. Amado Guevara made it 4-1 in 69th, curling a gorgeous free kick from 25 yards out just inside the near post.

“DeRo scored pretty quickly at the start of the second half. After that the flood gates opened,” Brennan recalled.

Toronto needed one more goal. It came when Chad Barrett scored in the 82nd minute, heading home from in close off of a Amado Guevara corner kick to make 5-1 for Toronto. It was the first time in club history they had ever scored five times in a game.

Guevara scored in the final minute of regulation to seal a 6-1 win, and the TFC players rushed onto the field at the final whistle. Most of the fans had left Stade Saputo by then, but approximately 200 travelling Toronto supporters remained in the drizzling rain to watch their heroes hoist the trophy, the club’s first.

“The win in Montreal was a real coming together as a group. To show we are on the map, we can do stuff. For that team and the staff we had, that was a huge moment,” Dichio stated.

Can Toronto do it again? Can they overcome last week’s 4-0 loss and put five goals past Independiente without conceding on what promises to be a very chilly Tuesday night at BMO Field?

Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio believes it’s doable.

“We have 90 minutes to turn this around. It’s not impossible. It’s been done around the world … We’re confident,” Osorio stated.

Toronto reached the Concacaf Champions League final last year, beating the Colorado Rapids and Mexico’s Tigres UANL and Club America before losing to Chivas Guadalajara in a penalty shootout.

NEWS AND NOTES

TFC will be without striker Jozy Altidore on Tuesday as he is dealing with a minor knee irritation that is unrelated to his off-season ankle operation. Coach Greg Vanney doesn’t expect Altidore to be ready to play in Saturday’s MLS season opener in Philadelphia.

Defender Drew Moor and winger Nick DeLeon are available to play on Tuesday after both sat out last week’s game in Panama due to injuries. Eriq Zavaleta also missed last week’s game due to injury and is doubtful for Tuesday, but he is expected to be available for the Philadelphia match.

On Monday, TFC announced the signing of goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, who most recently played for AJ Auxerre in France. Vanney said he expects to push Alex Bono for the starting goalkeeper spot.

TFC continues to negotiate with Belgian club Genk over the transfer of Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo. A deal is close to being completed and could be announced in the coming days, sources told Sportsnet.

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