Toronto FC, making their Champions League debut, now needs a win in Tuesday’s return game in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
TORONTO — Toronto FC certainly has developed a knack of making matters difficult for themselves.
Kendall Jagdeosingh scored the lone goal to lead the Puerto Rico Islanders to a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC on Wednesday in the first leg of a two-game preliminary-round series of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Now, Toronto FC must win Tuesday’s return game in the unfriendly confines of Bayamon, Puerto Rico to advance to the 16-team group stage.
«We don’t make things easy, do we? We shouldn’t have to go somewhere and score three, four, five goals because you don’t do your job at home,» said Toronto FC coach Chris Cummins. «And we said it was key we didn’t concede (a goal). We’re disappointed, of course we are.»
The series tiebreaker is goals on the road, so if Toronto leads 1-0 after 90 minutes in Puerto Rico, the game will go to extra time, and then possibly a penalty shootout.
Toronto’s predicament isn’t unlike what the team went through to get to the CONCACAF Champions League. Toronto FC beat out the USL’s Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps to win the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, but it took a dramatic deciding game to do it. Needing to beat the Impact by four goals on the road at Saputo Stadium, they clobbered Montreal in a 6-1 rout.
«We’re still well in this tie, we’ve got goals on this team, we score goals on this team,» Cummins said.
Jagdeosingh scored in the 67th minute for the United Soccer Leagues First Division team, stunning the red-clad capacity crowd of 20,758 at BMO Field in a game that Toronto FC appeared to have in their grasp.
In one of the few times Puerto Rico managed to get the ball out of their end in the second half, Cristian Arrieta sent in a long free kick that Toronto’s defence couldn’t clear. Toronto ‘keeper Stefan Frei raced out to grab the ball, but Jagdeosingh beat him to it, spun around and scored.
«I’ll be honest, I’m sitting in the changing there and I’m a little bit gobsmacked as to what to come out and say,» Cummins said. «Just disappointment again. Generally disappointed. We gave them the details, said ‘this is how they’re going to play, this is the set pieces they do.’ And that’s how they scored.»
After a see-saw first half, Toronto FC dominated their opponent through the final 45 minutes, forcing Puerto Rico’s ‘keeper William Gaudette to make several spectacular saves. Toronto outshot the Islanders 17-6, with shots on target at 5-2. Toronto had 11 corner kicks to the Islanders’ zero — a stat made obvious by the fans in the south stands that were throwing their streamers during the home side’s corner kicks in the dying minutes.
«You can’t be at home with that many chances and not take them,» Cummins said.
New acquired Toronto FC striker Ali Gerba had the crowd on its feet in the 76th minute when he deked around Gaudette to score, but he was ruled offside. Toronto continued to hammer the net in the dying minutes, and Danny Dichio forced Gaudette to make a spectacular goalmouth save in injury time, but the Islanders, who made the semifinals in last year’s inaugural Champions League series, head back to Puerto Rico with a 1-0 lead.
«It’s not a good start to the series with them, but it’s important to remember we’ve got another chance to go down there and make it right,» said Toronto midfielder Sam Cronin. «It’s not the end of the world. I think there’s a lot of positives to take out of the game, we created a lot of opportunities again, I think we had around 18 shots and that’s enough to score a goal, if not more.
«We did enough, we just have to put the ball in the back of the net.»
Despite a first few shaky minutes, Toronto controlled most of the play in the first half. Dwayne De Rosario, who passed up an appearance in Wednesday’ MLS all-star game in Utah to be with his team, almost put his side on the scoreboard with a glorious scoring chance in the 25th minute. The Toronto native sprinted in for a header on a long cross from Chad Barrett, but his shot was just wide.
Toronto FC had all the momentum in the second half against a panicked Islanders defence. Gerba narrowly missed on several excellent opportunities, including one less than two minutes into the second half when he squeezed through two defenders to fire a bullet from the top of the 18-yard-box that sailed just over the net.
Cronin then sent in a header that Gerba lunged to get his foot on in the goalmouth, but Gaudette managed to swat it away.
«When you’re on the road in these competitions, you’re going to have to defend well and maybe ride your luck a little bit,» said Islanders coach Colin Clarke. «(Gaudette) pulled off a couple of great saves which you’re going to need. It’s a tough competition and we’re delighted to get the result.»
There were some chippy moments over the final few minutes, and Gaudette was handed a yellow card for delay of game.
In Wednesday’s other CONCACAF Champions League first-leg matches, Costa Rican side Liberia beat Real Espana of Honduras 3-0. Meanwhile, Panama’s San Francisco beat San Juan Jabloteh of Trinidad and Tobago 2-0.
The Impact won last year’s national crown and reached the quarter-final stage of the tournament.
CONCACAF — consisting of soccer countries from North and Central America plus the Caribbean — decided to introduce this tournament last season as its own version of the European Champions League, which grips soccer fans around the world.
Notes: Toronto was without Amado Guevara, who’s recovering from an abdominal injury, and Nana Attakora, who was hurt in a collision in Toronto’s recent friendly with Argentina’s River Plate… . The game was the first of four in nine days for Toronto. The team is at the New England Revolution for an MLS game Saturday, in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, then back home for its friendly against visiting Real Madrid on Aug. 7.