Reds Set To Start Continental Campaign

Asif Hossain - TorontoFC.ca
Points Needed

On Wednesday Toronto FC will host C.D. Aguila of El Salvador to start another CONCACAF Champions League campaign (8 p.m. ET on concacaf.com). Reds were 2011/12 CCL semifinalists, finishing second in its group before ousting LA Galaxy in the quarterfinals. To reach the final eight in edition Toronto must win Group 1 due to a format change.

Ryan Johnson scored five CCL goals in the last tournament and will be counted on to bulge the back of the net again for Toronto. The forward doesn't take Aguila lightly but knows with Santos Laguna in the group, the Reds need all available points at home. "This is a game we have to win," Johnson said at training on Tuesday. Toronto starts the four-game group stage with two at home before traveling to Central America. At the outset, maximizing on those home points looks to be the key to reaching the quarterfinals. "We can't overlook anybody but at the same time, we have to know that this is an opportunity for us here," Johnson went on to elaborate.

In A Fitness Race

Ideally head coach Paul Mariner would love to have newly acquired striker Eric Hassli up alongside Johnson to balance the attack. The Frenchman has been hobbled by an ankle injury for over two weeks, though he did have the shooting boots on for some light touches at the Kia Training Ground on Tuesday. His availability will be a matchday decision.

Hassli expressed in two languages on Toronto FC TV that he is eager to get going as early as Wednesday night against Aguila. A closed-door conversation between the striker and the coach, with advice from the medical staff, will determine if TFC fans will be treated to a Hassli-Johnson partnership at BMO Field. The forward last competed in continental competition in the UEFA Champions League during the 2009/10 season for Zurich. Hassli scored one goal in five games in that tournament, though he may have to wait a little longer to open a Champions League account on this side of the Atlantic.

What Could've Been

It was only back on April 4 of this year that Toronto was just 45-minutes away from reaching the Champions League Final. A second half collapse in Torreon saw the Reds ousted from the tournament, having reached heights never attained by a Canadian representative in the continent's top club tournament. Goalkeeper Milos Kocic wants Toronto to apply the lessons learned from the previous campaign, hopefully on way to another deep run.

"We have good experience from last year," the keeper conveyed looking back at some of the places where Toronto traveled, including Central America, where Aguila is one of the top teams in the region. The 2012 Clausura winner of the Primer Division is coming off a 3-0 win in its most recent league game. "I think we know what to expect," Kocic continued, "we are ready to go and battle."
 

Put Saturday Behind

While Aguila enters the match on a positive league performance, Toronto is on the opposite spectrum after a disappointing end to a three-game winning streak on Saturday. The 2-0 defeat to Houston has been singled out by Mariner and his senior players as one to forget for the Reds. They plan to repay the fans' faith with a strong showing on Wednesday.

Midfielder Terry Dunfield is committed to giving "the fans something to cheer for after an under-par performance" against Houston. Like Hassli, Dunfield joined Toronto last year at mid-season just prior to the start of Champions League. The Canada international takes pride in performance, something he hopes his teammates will clearly convey Wednesday night. "We know we can do better ... (we will) show the fans it hurt losing on Saturday."

CCL Progress

The Officials

A crew from Puerto Rico is largely in charge of Wednesday's match. Referee Javier Santos leads out assistants and compatriots Antonio Lopez and Jairo Morales. The fourth official, Wilson Da Costa, is the only non Puerto Rican. Da Costa is from the Bahamas.