Joe O’Connor, National Post

Published: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Toronto FC's Dwayne De Rosario battles for the ball with Puerto Rico Islanders John Krause, left, and Daniel Gargan, right, in the first half during the CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Toronto.

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Mark Blinch/Reuters Toronto FC’s Dwayne De Rosario battles for the ball with Puerto Rico Islanders John Krause, left, and Daniel Gargan, right, in the first half during the CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in …

TORONTO — The weather. It has been on everybody’s mind, weighing Toronto down like a wet blanket, blotting out the summer sun, drowning golf’s Canadian Open last week and sapping the communal spirit in a garbage-strike-ridden city.

It has been one of those summers for Canada’s largest metropolis, when there is nothing much good to say.

And it would be one of those nights for Toronto FC at BMO Field. The sky was a mostly grey smudge and the Puerto Rico Islanders, a United Soccer League club, were mostly like the weather: a wet blanket whose 1-0 victory dampened Toronto’s hopes of advancing to the heightened atmosphere of the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.

«I don’t have a lot to say, I got to be honest with you,» Toronto coach Chris Cummins said. «I am sitting in the change room there, and I am little bit gobsmacked as to what to come out and say.

«We had a game plan, and we said there would be three things to the game. Be aware of the counterattack, that is how they play. So we dealt with the counterattack. We also said they were going to be dangerous with set pieces, we even told [our players] the set piece they were going to do. And they scored off it, which was criminal. And the third thing we said is, when you get your chances, you have to take your chances. And we haven’t done that.»

And now Toronto’s path to the group stage, and the chance to perhaps tangle with a top Mexican club and gain valuable experience, has become a lot more complicated.

Last night’s contest was the first in a home-and-home series with the Islanders. It wraps up next week in Puerto Rico. The winner will be decided on aggregate goals. Away goals are the tiebreaker, meaning Toronto heads to Puerto Rico needing a two-goal victory to avoid penalty kicks as the deciding factor for advancement.

But it should have never come to this for Toronto. TFC had multiple chances to score in the opening half. A Dwayne De Rosario header sailed just post the left post, while striker Ali Gerba was a step from catching up to two golden crosses.

Gerba would fly a ball past the crossbar to start the second frame, and midfielder Sam Cronin would zoom another by the right post soon after. The crowd was buzzing and TFC was threatening and pressing the action, right up until calamity struck in the 68th minute. A Puerto Rico free kick bounced around in the TFC box and came to rest on forward Kendall Jagdeosingh’s foot. He wheeled and fired it home, silencing the crowd and ultimately sealing the win.

«Listen: we never make things easy for ourselves, do we?» Cummins said. «We never make it easy.»

The USL has been cast as the kid brother to Major League Soccer, an allegedly second-tier loop populated by players either on their way up to the MLS or out of professional soccer. Pennies are pinched around most team head offices. Puerto Rico, for example, bundles its away games together to cut down on flight costs. They have been on the road now since June 20.

Puerto Rico was supposed to come to Toronto then, and play the piñata and take a few whacks from a Major League Soccer squad with about seven times the budget and several times the exposure.

Instead, TFC will have to call upon its memories of the match it played in Montreal to get to this game, the stunning 6-1 win in June in which Toronto needed to win by an unthinable four goals to advance.

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