After facing up to a belligerent Mexican team in midweek, Toronto FC now looks to show the same kind of defiance on the MLS front as the Columbus Crew come to visit.
Wednesday's 1-1 tie with Santos Laguna was feisty football and a welcome change to the sluggish start the team has shown in back-to-back league losses to Seattle and San Jose.
A loss to Columbus (1-1-0) on Saturday and Toronto is 0-3-0 in the league, facing a trip to hostile Mexico for the midweek CONCACAF Champions League semi-final rematch with Santos. A win Saturday and Aron Winter's team is on a roll, flying to Mexico with momentum.
“I think (Saturday) is very important for us to get a good result on Wednesday in Mexico,” said goalkeeper Milos Kocic.
“This is a very crucial game for us,” added acting captain Julian de Guzman. “These are the type of games that could change seasons for teams. This is where it starts for us, where we have to show our game face and get some points at home.”
The Santos game ended with a bench-clearing melee after Toronto defender Ashtone Morgan was head-butted at the final whistle in a wild finale.
Kocic, for one, believes, Toronto's response to the Mexican argy-bargy spoke volumes.
“That's what brings the team together, situations like that,” said the Serbia-born ‘keeper. “That's why you have fights in hockey, right? To bring up the energy of the game.
“I think the way we entered the game, the way we warmed up before the game and came in the locker-room and said ‘Listen, let's do this first of all for us and then for the organization and the city.’ I think it's a huge improvement.
Added defender Richard Eckersley: “If we're fighting, then we're all fighting together.”
That kind of passion and intensity was missing in Toronto's 3-0 home-opening loss to San Jose last Saturday. Kocic, in many ways the public conscience of the team these days, says Toronto did not hold the Earthquake players accountable last Saturday.
“You don't want your opponent to come into your field and act like they own the field, like San Jose did,” Kocic said. “And San Jose did it and they beat us. And against Santos, we didn't let that happen. We fought for it. And that's the response we need in every game.”
Saturday marks Toronto's third game in a week. And there are two more in the week ahead — the rematch with Santos Laguna and an MLS visit to Montreal next Saturday.
“It's too much but that's the situation. You can't change it,” said Winter.
But Winter wants changes in the future, saying such a congested schedule is “impossible.”
While Toronto has been outscored 6-1 in MLS play so far this season, Winter has kept his cool. The even-keeled Dutch coach acknowledges mistakes have cost his side dearly but insists his team has not played that badly.
“If you watch over the 90 minutes, I think that we played well. We created a lot of chances. The only difference was we didn't make goals at that moment and our opponents did.”
De Guzman, who has taken his fair share of stick in the media, agrees.
“If you really look deep into it, there's been times where we've put in good performances but the results have just been missing. We're on the same side, we want to build a winning team this year.
“That's the difference from our previous seasons where we just kind of come into the games just to enjoy the atmosphere and being in MLS. But that's not the case this time.”
Eckersley, like Kocic one of the more candid members of the team, says the good times will come when the team stops leaking goals and starts scoring them. Until then, he understands any criticism that comes their way.
“I think if we're conceding six goals in two games, it's definitely warranted,” said the English defender, whose leg was raked by a Mexican stud on Wednesday. “We need to stop those goals going in and as soon as we can do that, then we'll start winning games.”
NOTES — Captain Torsten Frings jogged around the pitch Friday as he continued his comeback from a hamstring strain. Defender Miguel Aceval also jogged but did not practise to baby a more short-term sore hamstring ... Winter says the team is in the market for a backup goalkeeper in the wake of Stefan Frei's broken leg, calling league pool goalie Brian Rowe is a short-term solution.