In the heat and exhaust, amidst the rabid fans of Torreon Mexico, Toronto FC will scratch to find something to take home.
TFC will lug a 5-20-8 MLS record into the CONCACAF Champions League match against Santos Laguna, Wednesday (8 p.m., Sportsnet World*). Injuries have denied them standouts Darren O’Dea, Stefan Frei, Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans. Eric Hassli is away from the team with his newborn son.
Because of a 3-1 loss to Santos in August, TFC needs to win by a score of 3-0 or 4-2 to advance. They are of course welcome to win by a larger margin.
Toronto is playing at altitude and will take the field about 24 hours after clearing customs in one of the most hostile stadiums on earth.
Given the circumstances an exceptional result may still leave the team looking in on the tournament.
On the plus side, the weather should be nice.
“We know all about the task at hand,” said defender Richard Eckersley. “They’re a great team and we have to be at our best to get a result.”
The trick, of course, will be to strike first, withstand any pushback and then hope for a big finish all without surrendering a fatal counter attack. The last time the teams met in Torreon in April, TFC was sitting on a 2-2 tie at the half before the home side outscored the visitors 4-0 to post a 6-2 final.
“No question, we’re going to have to bring our A game,” said forward Terry Dunfield. “They’re one of the best teams this side of the planet. If we’re going to do anything we have to do well as a team.”
Even a game that will demand offence will start with solid defensive play, Dunfield said.
“As soon as you start getting spread out they will pick you apart,” he said. “If we can take the positives from our first half performance down there I think we’ll do all right.”
For young players, Dunfield said, experiencing the hothouse of Estadio Corona could prove more important than the actual result.
“It’s a fantastic stadium. It’s always great testing yourself against the best players. You sort of get a feel for what these games are like. Now next season when they go down there or go with their national teams they know what to expect.”
“We’re representing Canada. That’s what we told the players this morning,” said manager Paul Mariner. “Obviously it’s going to be difficult but it’s 11 blokes against 11 blokes. Let’s get after it.”
In the end, Mariner said, no game is lost before it starts or bereft of any possible benefit. “It’s a wonderful theatre of football,” he said. “It’s a tremendous stadium. They’re a wonderful team. It presents a lot of challenges obviously but it gives people a chance to further their career whether it’s going up the ladder or going down the ladder.”
*A previous version of this article had the match listed to be shown on Sportsnet One. The broadcast information was updated after the match was moved to Sportsnet World.