TORONTO – Between the heartbreak of last year's elimination and the more recent pain of a 2-0 home loss to the Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC are raring to go as they kick off CONCACAF Champions League play once more.
On Wednesday, they will take on CD Águila of El Salvador (8 p.m. ET streamed on CONCACAF.com), a must-win game in a brutal CCL group.
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Video: Terry Dunfield ahead of Wednesday's CCL match.
“It’s important we win our home games and also give the fans something to cheer for after an under-par performance on Saturday,” midfielder Terry Dunfield said on Tuesday after training at Downsview Park. “This is one of the times you want a game straight away. We know we can do better and go out fighting and show the fans that it hurt losing on Saturday. We’re not used to that now, and I can’t wait for tomorrow night.”
After a 1-9-0 start to the season under head coach Aron Winter, the job was given to Paul Mariner on June 7 and the team is 4-3-4 since. The loss to Houston ended a three-game winning streak and Mariner left little doubt that he expects improvement on Wednesday.
“It’s very important, we just spoke to the players this morning,” Mariner said on Tuesday. “We had a bit of a discussion after Saturday. We weren’t particularly pleased with ourselves even though we took our hats off to Houston. I wasn’t pleased with that performance and they weren’t pleased with it. So we expect a reaction tomorrow night and what a great game to come into.”
Toronto and Águila are in a three-team group with Mexico’s Santos Laguna, who defeated Toronto in the CCL semifinals this past spring. Only the top team advances, making home wins vital to, if not required for advancement.
“Home form in any league is of paramount importance,” Mariner said. “If you win your home games and pick up points away, you go through. It’s really simple.”
He said there is no thought to resting any regulars with Saturday’s league match at Chicago also looming.
“No rest for anybody, straight at it,” Mariner said. “We’re at home, we have our fans behind us. It’s a massive game for us. We want to bounce back from Saturday so we’re looking for a reaction.”
At home, Águila lost their first league game July 14 but have since won two in to rise up the Salvadoran Apertura table.
Striker Eric Hassli, who was acquired by Toronto in a trade with Vancouver on July 20, isn't a lock to play Wednesday as he recovers from an ankle injury.
“It literally is touch-and-go whether he is in the squad,” Mariner said. “I’m not going to rush him.”
But despite the announcement that Bermuda international Freddy Hall has been signed as a backup goalkeeper, Milos Kocic, who has played all but one of Toronto’s games this season, likely will get the start.