Toronto Out To Surprise Santos

Asif Hossain -
Off The Ball

Toronto FC takes on Club Santos Laguna Wednesday night in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal (Sportsnet Ontario & One at 8 p.m. ET) at BMO Field.

After discarding another continental giant in LA Galaxy at the quarterfinals stage, the Reds will look to surprise again. The task this time is more difficult with injuries eating away at the squad, combined with the mid-season form of Mexican league leader Santos. However, Toronto hopes a few tactical adjustments will put them in a position to concede fewer goals. First assistant coach Bob de Klerk spoke of the need to be more "compact" off the ball against the visitors.

Top Strikers Meet

Toronto forward Ryan Johnson has been a consistent performer for the Reds in the Champions League. The Jamaica international has five goals in the 2011/12 edition of CCL, placing him second on the continent in that category. His teammate Joao Plata has four goals to his name in the competition. Meanwhile, Santos brings with them two players that have equaled Johnson's exploits. Forward Oribe Peralta and attacking midfielder Christian Suarez both have five goals for their team. Not shy to attack the goal either is Carlos Quintero, who matches Plata with four tallies.

On Tuesday, Johnson revealed that the Reds may change the way it approaches the game at the back, in particular dropping the high line and providing more support "behind the ball" against the pacy, skillful Mexican visitors.

Keeping It Together

In the last round of CCL Toronto was able to compete with LA Galaxy on and off the ball. That hasn't been the case in the start of its MLS campaign where TFC has surrendered six goals in two games. Defender Richard Eckersley commented after Saturday's 3-0 loss to San Jose that it was "disappointing" for him "personally as a defender" to give up three goals. With three days to rest and a couple of training sessions on the books, the Englishman feels the Reds are more united and driven to fix what's broken.

Eckersley mentioned the need to prove themselves against Santos on Wednesday, saying the key is for the club to keep it together, likely alluding to the compact defence discussed earlier.

Keeping Santos At Bay

The Unlikely Story

While Milos Kocic is the undisputed number one goalkeeper for Toronto now with Stefan Frei sidelined with a broken fibula, the Reds scrambled for a backup ahead of Saturday's match against San Jose. The search led them to Brian Rowe, whose name was kept in a pool of MLS goalkeepers for such emergency situations. Rowe is expected to support Kocic on Wednesday night. The Oregon native was a second team all-American in 2011 while attending UCLA.

On Toronto FC TV, the journeyman Rowe discussed his rush from LA to Toronto last Friday after he received a surprise phone call.

The Opposition

Santos Laguna players have shown a great deal of class on their Toronto trip leading to the semifinal. They are sure to make enemies on the pitch and in the stands Wednesday night by virtue of wearing the wrong colours; off the pitch they've been exemplary.

Defender Felipe Baloy called Toronto a team that "plays well and has major players," while striker Herculez Gomez complimented the "stunning" city that is "one of his favourites," and went on to call the Reds a dangerous side due to their unpredictable "Jekyll and Hyde" nature.

Behind the niceties lies a team that is the co-leader in the Mexican top flight, having won four straight league games. In CCL, the night Toronto beat LA Galaxy 2-1 in Carson, Santos demolished Seattle 6-1 in Torreon. For his part, Gomez has scored in the club's last four league wins and adds to the frightening attack that possesses the aforementioned Peralta, Suarez and Quintero.

The Officials

A referee that Toronto has already seen this year will be in charge on Wednesday. Ricardo Salazar was the lead official in Toronto's 3-1 loss away to Seattle on March 17, in which he doled out three yellow cards. One of them was to TFC defender Aaron Maund in second half stoppage time. The American crew is comprised of three other MLS veterans. Salazar's assistants will be Kermit Quisenberry and Adam Wienckowski. The fourth official is Terry Vaughn.