Puerto Rico Islanders’ Daniel Gargan (left) heads the ball in front of Toronto FC’s O’Brian White during CONCACAF Champions League action in Toronto on Wednesday. (Sun Media/Greg Henkenhaf)
By LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA
Toronto FC’s stay in the CONCACAF Champions League looks to be a short one.
The Puerto Rico Islanders did exactly what they had to, keep the home team under wraps and wait for a 1-0 gift. It came in the 66th minute when Toronto netminder Stefan Frei lost a challenge for a loose ball to Kendall Jagdeosingh and the Isles silenced the BMO Field crowd of 20,758.
The second leg is Tuesday in Bayamon, a suburb of San Juan, at the 12,500-seat Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium. Having conceded the goal at home, TFC must now win 2-1 to advance or 1-0 to force extra time. The winner advances to a four-team group that likely will include Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul and TFC’s MLS rivals, the Columbus Crew.
«I’m a little bit gob-smacked,» Toronto coach Chris Cummins said, counting off three areas his team was told to concentrate on, but didn’t. «One, be aware of their counter-attack, two, they’re dangerous on set pieces and they scored a soft goal on it and three, we have to score on our chances. That’s why we take time to look at (Puerto Rico’s) DVDs.»
Toronto outshot the Isles 17-6 and had an 11-0 advantage in corner kicks. An Ali Gerba goal was offside, while in the 55th minute, a header from Sam Cronin to Gerba on the doorstep was stopped by goalie William Gaudette, whose time-wasting theatrics enraged the crowd and eventually earned him a yellow card.
«Part of the game,» said Gaudette, who pleaded innocent because of «equipment problems» and almost was hit by a couple of objects tossed from the stands during one injury break.
Late substitute Danny Dichio almost squeezed a header past him at the end of regular time, but he made the save.
«They came at us more in the second half as we expected, but we broke away and got a goal,» coach Colin Clarke said. «Obviously we’re delighted with the result, but we have a long way to go.»
The Islanders, who play in the United Soccer Leagues first division, already have a reputation for causing trouble at CONCACAF, getting all the way to the semifinals of last year’s tournament against Cruz Azul before losing in a penalty kick tiebreaker.
The visitors surprised no one last night with a very conservative first half, often keeping all but one man back and using their big bodies to clog the lanes. Cummins is frustrated at having to rely on another multi-goal road game to go further in this competition after a 6-1 win to get by the USL’s Montreal Impact in the preliminary Nutrilite Cup.
«We never make it easy, do we?» he said. «We shouldn’t have to go some place and need to score three or four. We have to learn.»