Reds Relishing Champions League Role
TORONTO – Toronto FC made an impressive start to their CONCACAF Champions League group-stage campaign on Tuesday night at BMO Field, shocking Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul 2-1 on goals from Martin Saric and Mista.
Up against the two-time CONCACAF finalists from Mexico City, the Reds attacked early and often, with Saric returning from injury and putting the Mexico City club on its heels in just the third minute of play.
An initial header by Reds target man Mista was blocked by the Cruz Azul defense, but the ball fell to Saric, who made no mistake heading the ball past a surprised Cementeros backup goalkeeper Yosgart Gutierrez.
Toronto pressured the visitors early and often in the first half, and midfielder Dwayne DeRosario almost made it 2-0 in the ninth minute, whiffing a dangerous shot through the Cruz Azul goalmouth but wide of the net.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Villa missed tying the game for the visitors just two minutes later when his scorching 25-yard free kick was blasted just past goalkeeper Jon Conway’s left post.
A similar effort by Mista on a Toronto set piece also narrowly missed giving Toronto a 2-0 lead.
But then Mista finally converted in the 44th minute with a clinical finish from the top of the Cruz Azul penalty area.
The former Deportivo La Coruña target man collected a centering pass from defender Raivis Hscanovics and screamed a hard left-footed blast past a diving Gutierrez, who got his fingertips to the ball but couldn’t stop it from crossing the goal line.
Cruz Azul coach Enrique Meza made five changes to his starting lineup after his squad beat defending CONCACAF champions Pachuca last weekend. And it took the insertion of one of those regulars for la Máquina to gain some momentum back.
Argentine midfielder Christian Giménez entered the game at halftime for César Villaluz and quickly made his impact felt, forcing Conway to turn away a thunderous blast in the 54th minute.
Giménez finally converted a late consolation goal for the visitors in the 89th minute, banging a curving free kick over the Toronto wall off the left post, past Conway and into the goal.
With the victory, Toronto remain undefeated in all games played at BMO Field this season, extending their streak to 14 games including international play and exhibition games. The Reds return to league action on Saturday afternoon when they host Thierry Henry, Rafa Márquez and the New York Red Bulls.
Preki's men play their next Champions League Group A game on Aug. 24 when they travel to Panama City for a game against Árabe Unido.
Cruz Azul, meanwhile conceded their first-ever goals against MLS competition in Champions League play, having failed to give up a goal in previous encounters against Columbus and D.C. United.
TOR: Martin Saric 3’
TOR: Mista (Raivis Hscanovics, O’Brian White) 44’
CAZ: Christian Giménez 89’
CAZ: Hector Guitierrez (Reckless Tackle) 21’
TOR: Jacob Peterson (Delaying a Restart) 73’
CAZ: Fausto Pinto (Reckless Tackle) 76’
CAZ: Christian Giménez (Unsporting Behaviour) 89’
TOR: Dwayne De Rosario (Unsporting Behaviour) 93’+
CAZ: Gerardo Torrado (Unsporting Behaviour) 93’+
Toronto FC -- Jon Conway, Maksim Usanov, Adrian Cann, Nana Attakora, Raivis Hscanovics, Nick LaBrocca, Martin Saric (Jacob Peterson 65’), Julian de Guzman, Dwayne De Rosario, O’Brian White (Fuad Ibrahim 78), Mista (Joseph Nane 67’)
Subs not used: Milos Kocic, Gabe Gala, Dan Gargan, Ty Harden
Cruz Azul -- Yosgart Guitiérrez, Fausto Pinto, Julio César Domínguez, Alejandro Castro, Horacio Cervantes, Gonzalo Pineda (Gerardo Torrado 46’), César Villaluz, Héctor Guitiérrez (Javier Orozco 63’), Maximilliano Biancucchi, Alejandro Vela (Christian Giménez 46’), Emmanuel Villa
Subs not used: José de Jesus Corona, Joel Huiqui, Alam Bello, Rogelio Chávez
Referee: Courtney Campbell
Assistants: Stephen Brown, Ricardo Morgan
4th Official: Silviu Petrescu