By John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports
In a matter of days things have gone from bad to worse for Toronto FC.
Still smarting from a heartbreaking decision against the Columbus Crew last weekend, Toronto suffered another major setback Wednesday night with a 1-0 loss to the visiting Puerto Rico Islanders at BMO Field.
Trinidadian forward Kendall Jagdeosingh was the hero for Puerto Rico, his goal in the 67th minute standing up as the difference in the opener of this CONCACAF Champions League preliminary playoff.
The winner of the home-and-away series advances to the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, a 16-team tournament featuring the best teams from across North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Because of Wednesday’s result, Toronto is on the verge of elimination in CONCACAF’s showcase club tournament at the hands of the Islanders, who compete in the USL First Division — one level below Major League Soccer, the top league in North America.
A loss or a tie in next week’s return leg in Puerto Rico will eliminate Toronto from the competition.
But even though Toronto is firmly behind the eight ball, coach Chris Cummins still likes his team’s chances of advancing, provided they show the mental strength to rebound from this loss.
“We’re still in this [series] … the players have to take some responsibility and pick themselves up,” Cummins said.
This has been a difficult week for the Canadian side.
On Saturday, the club threw away the lead by conceding two late goals — including one in injury time — en route to a 3-2 loss to Columbus in MLS regular-season action.
Despite the precarious situation Toronto finds itself in, Cummins maintains that the team won’t let its recent poor results affect its mindset going into next week’s make-or-break contest in Puerto Rico.
“We’ve had difficult times before when we’ve lost two [in a row], » Cummins said. «I’m not going to come into practice Thursday and mope around.»
The Islanders stated their intentions early, as Jagdeosingh and Jonathon Steele carved out quality scoring chances in the opening five minutes.
Jagdeosingh continued to cause the defence fits, breaking in on goal in the 20th minute after a shockingly horrendous giveaway in midfield by Toronto’s Dwayne de Rosario.
Toronto finally came alive midway through the half when Ali Gerba’s powerful header off a perfect cross from Chad Barrett flashed by the post.
The MLS side continued to threaten early in the second half.
Gerba and rookie Sam Cronin came agonizingly close with their efforts on goal, allowing the Islanders to escape.
Puerto Rico broke the deadlock when Jagdeosingh blasted a shot from close range, taking advantage of a mistake by Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Toronto furiously pressed for the equalizer in the final five minutes of regulation, but Islanders goalkeeper William Gaudette made a pair of fantastic diving saves on Jim Brennan and Danny Dichio to preserve the win for Puerto Rico.
Toronto was missing two key players due to injury — midfielder Amado Guevara (ribs), and defender Nana Attakora (hamstring) — while a third starter, defender Adrian Serioux, was on the bench nursing a minor injury.
Cronin was back in the starting lineup, having been away for the last month with the U.S. national at the Gold Cup.
Wednesday’s game was the first of four in 10 days for Toronto.
Gomez Shines In Loss
Toronto FC coach Chris Cummins heaped praise on defender Emmanuel Gomez for his performance against Puerto Rico Wednesday night.
«I thought he was the best player on the field,» Cummins said.
Gomez, an 18-year-old native of Gambia, made only his second start for Toronto since signing with the MLS club earlier this year.
The youngster looked sharp against Puerto Rico, showing great poise and maturity, while forming a solid partnership in the centre of Toronto’s defence with veteran Nick Garcia.
Gomez attributed his solid outing against Puerto Rico to hard work in practice.
«I’ve been working hard and I will continue to work hard to [earn more starts,» explained the Gambian.
The Reds return to MLS regular-season action Saturday with a road game against the New England Revolution.
The team then visits the Islanders next Tuesday before returning home to host Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid on Aug. 7 in an international friendly.