MLS

Toronto FC draws with Santos Laguna in CONCACAF semifinal

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The Canadian Press
3/29/2012 12:15:06 AM
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TORONTO -- There could be buckets of bad blood next week when Toronto FC and Santos Laguna meet in Mexico for the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal.

Wednesday's entertaining if ill-tempered first leg ended in a 1-1 tie and a wild final-whistle melee that saw Darwin Quintero become the second Santos Laguna player to be ejected on the night.

Toronto captain Julian de Guzman said teammate Ashtone Morgan was head-butted by Quintero "and then hell broke loose at that point."

In addition to two red cards, the unruly Mexicans leave town with a valuable away goal after the action-packed contest before 18,950 at BMO Field. Manager Benjamin Galindo may also be hearing from CONCACAF after seemingly calling American referee Ricardo Salazar a "gringo" in his post-match news conference.

Morgan goes home with a knot on his forehead from the head-butt while fellow defender Richard Eckersley's leg was gashed by a set of Mexican studs -- that led to Osmar Mares' dismissal in the 77th minute.

Toronto manager Aron Winter said the final melee happened so quickly he couldn't see what happened. Galindo said Toronto defender Miguel Aceval came off the bench and threw a punch to spark the incident -- an accusation that Aceval was quick to dismiss.

"The expulsion was given to the wrong player. It should have been given to the Canada player," Galindo said through an interpreter

The Santos coach also objected to an American referee "refereeing for Americans" -- which made little sense given the game was in Canada. But it was clearly not a compliment to Salazar or MLS.

Winter had a different view of the officiating.

"Very good," he said.

But Winter's overall take on the ugly ending was that it was "not good for soccer."

The two teams exchanged first-half goals in a game that offered plenty of scoring chances. Toronto outshot the Mexicans 13-8 (both teams put six shots on target) and forced 11 corners to the visitors' one.

"I think they have a good team. Today they didn't show it," Winter said of the Mexicans.

Asked what kind of reception his team might expect next Wednesday in Torreon, Winter said: "You can expect everything over there."

Said de Guzman: "They've already warned us that it's going to be a war over there."

First on Winter's radar, however, is Saturday's home league game against the Columbus Crew -- his team's third outing in a week.

After a pair of woeful MLS outings, a hard-working Toronto FC showed plenty of resolve against a skilful high-scoring side that currently tops the Mexican league.

"Today we were really a team," Winter said approvingly.

"A draw is not a bad result but we deserved more," he added.

They could have used it, with a testing second leg looming in Mexico.

Aceval scored in the 37th minute on a memorable free kick for Toronto FC, who had the Mexicans reeling on most of their 11 corners and other set plays.

Striker Danny Koevermans was yellow-carded on Toronto's first attempt to take the free kick. He was penalized for taking it too early -- a yellow card that will keep him out of the second leg.

A teammate said later that the big Dutch striker had not heard the referee's instructions to wait before taking it.

After the yellow card, Aceval then stepped up and hammered a left-footed blast from outside the penalty box that veteran Santos 'keeper Oswaldo Sanchez got a hand to but could not keep out of the net.

U.S. international Herculez Gomez accounted for the Santos Laguna goal in the 31st minute, beating Milos Kocic after the Toronto defence was breached by a through ball.

Toronto got away with what looked like a clear penalty in the 52nd minute after substitute Toronto defender Aaron Maund shoved a Santos player to the ground in the penalty box

Both teams felt the semifinal is still on the line.

"There's still 90 to 95 minutes left. Nothing is decided," Galindo said.

"It's never impossible," said de Guzman. "We proved it already going to Dallas and L.A on the road and I don't see why we can't give them a good run down there."

It was nine degrees at kickoff in Toronto, compared to 29 degrees in Santos' home of Torreon. But the Mexicans proved hardy during warmups, tying TFC 2-2 in tuques.

Wind and rain made it more uncomfortable as the game wore on.

Toronto advanced to the semifinals by upsetting the defending MLS champion Los Angeles Galaxy 4-3 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.

The last MLS side standing, Toronto has already made Canadian club history by progressing this far in the competition.

But the decisive 2-1 away victory against the Galaxy was quickly forgotten in the wake of league losses of 3-1 in Seattle and 3-0 at home to San Jose.

Toronto's ongoing defensive woes -- the team gave up a league-worst 59 goals -- have been compounded by a injury to captain Torsten Frings in the MLS season opener.

The loss of the former German international to a hamstring strain has removed the glue from the Toronto backline.

Santos poured it on in the second leg of its quarter-final with Seattle, pouring in four second-half goals to defeat the visiting Sounders 6-1 on the day and 7-3 on aggregate.

The other semifinal pitted defending champion Monterrey against the visiting Pumas in an all-Mexican clash.

Mexican teams have dominated the competition since the format was revamped in 2008-09. Mexican sides won it the first three years and only one MLS team (Real Salt Lake) has made it to the final.

Twelve of the last 16 semifinalists have been Mexican.

The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League earns club bragging rights in North and Central America and the Caribbean -- and a trip to FIFA Club World Cup.

Danny Koevermans and Santiago Hoyos  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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