After spending the night in a Miami airport and arriving in Toronto only a few hours before kickoff on Wednesday, El Salvador’s Club Deportivo Aguila might have been hoping for some sympathy at BMO Field.
But Toronto FC didn’t comply, battering the visitors 5-1 to open CONCACAF Champions League group stage play.
Reggie Lambe got two goals, while Luis Silva, Terry Dunfield and Ryan Johnson also scored for the Reds in front of a dismal crowd of 5,324. Aguila’s Yaikel Perez scored his team’s lone goal.
After the match, Toronto coach Paul Mariner acknowledged his opponent’s unfortunate situation, but also praised his own team for rebounding from a 2-0 MLS loss to the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
“I know about their travel issues and I have sentiments after the fact,” Mariner said. “Unfortunately for them we were poor against Houston, and I asked for a response and got a response. I’m very pleased for the lads.”
Mariner was impressed with his team’s fluid movement, citing Toronto’s strong combination play as the key to the win.
“The ball into the front man was excellent, the holdup play was excellent, the finishers coming to show for the ball were timed perfectly,” said Mariner. “Our game plan, to be perfectly honest, was to get (fullbacks) Doneil (Henry) and Ashtone (Morgan) moving forward since we thought they’d try to plug us in the middle.”
With the win, Toronto temporarily leads its three-team group with three points. Mexico’s Santos Laguna — who knocked TFC out of the 2011-12 competition in the semifinal stage — plays its first game at home to Aguila on Aug. 21.
Since only the group winner qualifies for the quarter-finals, Wednesday’s game was considered a must-win for TFC. The Reds still face a trip to El Salvador and a home-and-home with Santos. In the spring, the two teams tied 1-1 in Toronto before Santos won 6-2 in Torreon, Mex.
On Wednesday, Silva opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a header from a corner kick before Lambe doubled the lead eight minutes later with a shot from inside the box.
After Perez responded for Aguila through a rebound in the 37th minute, Dunfield made it 3-1 five minutes before the break when he converted a Morgan pass into the bottom right corner.
In the second half, Lambe scored his second with a shot from outside the box in the 48th minute, and Johnson made it 5-1 10 minutes later when he rounded the Aguila goalkeeper.
Lambe doubled his 2012 scoring tally with his two goals against Aguila, but still said he was disappointed to miss out on a hat trick.
“I feel like I should have had it. I should have had a hat trick,” Lambe said. “I had two chances, a volley and one that Ryan (Johnson) played me through that I should have scored.”
Johnson, who had played every minute of every game for TFC prior to Wednesday’s match, was substituted in the 70th minute.
He said the game was a confidence booster ahead of Saturday’s MLS trip to play the Chicago Fire. Toronto is bottom of the Eastern Conference with 19 points, while Chicago is fifth with 32 points.
“Going into Chicago, it’s a big game for us, and this helps everybody,” said Johnson. “We had a lot of opportunities on offence and this will make us more comfortable on Saturday when we’re in those positions.”