FRISCO, Texas - Only a victory will do for Toronto FC, it's as simple as that.
If Toronto beats FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Tuesday, it will advance to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League in March. And that would help ease the pain of yet another disappointing Major League Soccer season.
“I’m looking forward to (Tuesday) and just trying take a positive out of this season,” forward Ryan Johnson said.
But beating FC Dallas won't be easy.
Toronto has lost to Dallas three times this season: twice in Major League soccer by 1-0 scores and Aug. 25 in a Champions League match at BMO Field.
“It’s just been the smallest details,” Johnson said. “I don’t think there’s much difference between us and them.''
Added forward Danny Koevermans: “It can be the first time TFC makes it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, it’s a big one.''
So big, in fact, that Koevermans didn't play in Saturday’s 1-1 MLS tie at Philadelphia so he could be ready for Tuesday's game.
Toronto FC has yet to make the playoffs in its five years in MLS.
But the club underwent a major overhaul in July that included the signings of designated players Koevermans and midfielder Torsten Frings and the acquisition of Johnson in a trade. That has helped create an aura of optimism about the squad as first-year head coach and technical director Aron Winter completes his first season.
A win Tuesday would certainly kick-start Toronto FC's 2012 preparation says Tom Anselmi, the executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the soccer club.
“If we were able to beat Dallas, now we start next March coming right out of training camp with an important game,” Anselmi said. “That would kind of whip next year into full speed right from the get-go and it would be exciting.”
Toronto and Dallas are tied for second in Group C of the Champions League with seven points each from five games. Pumas UNAM of Mexico is tops with eight points, three ahead of Tauro F.C. of Panama. The top two teams advance.
The Champions League loss to Dallas in August was a microcosm of Toronto’s season. The winning goal in the replay of the game abandoned the night before by severe weather came off a set piece late in the first half after Dallas missed a penalty.
Ugo Ihemelu's long throw-in was headed away by a Toronto defender. But it came back to Ihemelu and his cross was headed home by an open Jack Stewart.
Toronto has been hurt this season by defensive lapses on set pieces, sometimes on throw-ins and more often on corner kicks.
Goalkeeper Milos Kocic has played all seven of Toronto’s Champions League matches and hopes his teammates are better at that this time around.
“We better be,” he said. “It’s the most important game of the season and we have given away way too many easy goals. It’s time for us to realize defence is something that has cost us a lot of points and a playoff run this year.
“We have a good team to do well and set plays shouldn’t cost us as many points as they did in fact. I hope the same thing doesn’t happen in Tuesday’s game.''
Kocic also played in Saturday’s match in Philadelphia and preserved the tie with two fine second-half saves against a team that had beaten Toronto 6-2 in May.
And registering such a tie following a two-week break was just the kind of positive result Toronto wanted to take into Tuesday’s game.
“It’s always important, the feeling about the last game and the feeling is now good,” Winter said.
Not only was Koevermans able to rest but midfielders Julian de Guzman and Terry Dunfield didn't travel to Philadelphia after playing twice for the Canadian national team in World Cup qualifying matches. They rejoined Toronto FC here.
Frings and forward Joao Plata, back from a strained hamstring, were removed from Saturday’s match early in the second half. Forward Peri Marosevic, formerly with Dallas, did not play.
“We have a good vibe within the team right now,” Marosevic said. “We’re mentally prepared for this game, we know what it means, we know what we need to do.”
NOTES: FC Dallas will be without defender Jair Benitez and forward Fabian Castillo because of red cards picked up in a 5-3 loss to Tauro on Sept. 28. ...Toronto defender Richard Eckersley has not played since suffering a strained hamstring late in the 1-1 tie with Pumas in a Champions League match at BMO Field on Sept. 27. Matt Stinson and Doneil Henry have started at right back in his absence...Toronto midfielder Eric Avila and Dallas forward Maicon Santos, who were traded for each other Aug. 2, can't play in the Group C matches because they were on the Champions League rosters of their former teams.