Last Updated: 29th July 2009, 4:59am
This isn’t man landing on the moon, but if Toronto FC gets a few minutes of TV time in the soccer hotbeds of the Caribbean and Spain, it will be one giant kick for the three-year-old team.
TFC gets its first taste of CONCACAF Champions League play tonight against the Puerto Rico Islanders (8 p.m., BMO Field, GOL-TV), with a return match there on Tuesday and then Friday’s David vs. Goliath friendly against Real Madrid at BMO.
Toronto-born captain Jim Brennan sees the coming days as a golden opportunity to plant TFC’s red scarf on the international map.
«If we go down to Puerto Rico and beat them, then we’re in the (CONCACAF) group stages and we go to Mexico and other places,» a hopeful Brennan said yesterday. «That’s great for us and the club. We want to take Toronto FC as far as we can go.»
The Islanders, who play in the USL First Division, have laid low up to tonight, pointing to such perceived disadvantages as TFC’s larger budget. But TFC coach Chris Cummins isn’t buying it, having heard the same refrain when the USL’s Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps pleaded poverty and then gave TFC fits.
«If I was working for a lower club, I’d do the same,» Cummins said. «They have nothing to lose. They’ll give it a go and if they get something, they’ll be over the moon. As long as we match their energy and aggression, our qualities should come out on top.
«This is a massive game for us. We want to go out there and show that we’re the best team in Canada and we deserve to be in (CONCACAF). They’re a big, strong athletic team and they’re probably looking to come in, sit back and hit us on the counter. So we need to be switched on and tuned in and do better than we did on the weekend (a 3-2 MLS loss in Columbus).»
Tonight starts a dizzying series of games home and away, with an MLS match in New England on Saturday as well before the return to Puerto Rico and the Madrid friendly. It will test TFC’s bench, already stretched by injuries to defenders Adrian Serioux and Nana Attakora and second-highest scorer Amado Guevara.
None of those players will go tonight or possibly Saturday, with Attakora gone at least another week. But midfielder Sam Cronin is back from duty with the U.S. national team.
The standing-room only beer garden in the north end of BMO largely has been replaced by temporary bleachers that can hold around 1,000 extra spectators for the sold-out games against Puerto Rico and Madrid. That would bring BMO capacity to more than 21,000.