Toronto FC players are seen running drills during practice at BMO field. TFC will play host to the Puerto Rico Islanders tonight as they open play in the CONCACAF Champions League.
TFC knows this. Their opponent, the Puerto Rico Islanders, know this. And that’s why you can expect the Islanders to come out and play a bland, boring brand of soccer — the same kind the tiny USL-1 squad rode from its beaches to the semi-finals of last year’s Champions League.
In this home-and-home series, the Islanders represent a serious threat to Toronto’s intentions to move on.
TFC, for all the advances to its attack this season (Pablo Vitti, Ali Gerba, Dwayne De Rosario), is still a squad that is remarkably awkward in its back four.
The counter-attacking goal by Columbus in extra time last weekend caught Toronto exposed, going balls out on the attack, and turned what would have been a solid road point into a disappointing loss.
This is exactly the kind of goal Puerto Rico is capable of scoring. They sit and wait and counter when the opportunity presents itself — then return to their bunkering style, hoping to drag opponents back to the island, down a point and now forced to contend with the stifling heat and humidity.
Puerto Rico didn’t defeat the giants of North American football in 2008 by pretending to be something they’re not, but they did find a system that works in a home-and-home format. And when a team comes in determined to not play for the win, all the pressure falls to the other squad to perform.
Toronto coach Chris Cummins has won fans this year for his vision to find and adjust formations that break down opponents. Finding one that can bust that bunker without leaving them exposed at the back will be a true test for the coach.