Toronto FC had things their own way in their 5-1 victory over El Salvador’s travel-weary C.D. Aguila in their opening match of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday.
The Reds know it will not be so easy Saturday when they return to Major League Soccer to play the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.
The Fire (9-7-5) sit fifth in the Eastern Conference with 32 points with Toronto (5-12-4) at the bottom in 10th place with 19 points.
While Aguila was stranded in the Miami airport all Tuesday night and did not arrive in Toronto until just hours before the game, the Reds will be facing a rested team at home when they play the Fire.
“This is obviously going to be a better quality that we’re going to see with Chicago and they’re doing pretty well this season,” Toronto forward Ryan Johnson said after Wednesday’s game in which he scored once. “If we’re going to make this playoff push we have to beat teams in their home and it is going to start with Chicago.”
After scoring two goals on Wednesday, Lambe says he knows the recipe for a victory away from home. “I think we just have to go out and just play like we did (Wednesday) and like we played before”, said Lambe, who also scored a brace against the Fire earlier this season.
Chicago and Toronto last met on April 21 when the Fire opened the score in just 25 seconds at BMO Field and won 3-2, with Lambe scoring both TFC’s goals. That was Toronto’s sixth MLS loss in a row, opening the regular season. Aron Winter was Toronto’s head coach then and the team was on the way to an 0-9-0 start. Paul Mariner took over as head coach on June 7 after TFC’s first win.
Lambe, a 21-year-old Bermuda international, signed in the off-season after having played for Ipswich Town, one of Mariner’s former teams in England.
“I just think I’m getting into the league more,” Lambe said. “I’m getting more comfortable playing. I think my confidence is rising.”
Mariner says he’s pleased about Lambe’s abilities. “He’s sometimes a little laid back,” Mariner said. “But when he wants to play he’s as smooth as silk. He’s a beautiful mover. His feet are quick. He’s incisive with his finishing and he’s got an eye for a pass. ...That’s why I signed him.”
The mid-week victory was a confidence builder for Toronto coming after last Saturday’s poor outing at BMO Field in a 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo.
Toronto put more energy into the game against Aguila than they showed against Houston.
“I think we all wanted to bounce back from the Houston game,” Lambe said. “We wanted to get a result and then move on to Saturday’s game (at Chicago) and keep going, pushing it forward.”
Mariner feels the game against Aguila went a long way to restoring the confidence the team had built with a three-game winning streak before the loss to Houston snapped it.
“Anybody who has played this game knows full well that confidence is the golden chalice because it can drain away from you so quickly,” he said. “It takes a few games to build confidence.”
Johnson feels it is a matter of duplicating the energy and drive Toronto showed on Wednesday against Chicago and not allow the Fire as much space and time on the ball as they allowed the Dynamo.
“We just have to bring the intensity,” Johnson said. “Kind of push up the team a little bit forward and don’t give them time on the ball. That’s one of the things we did the last time against Houston. We gave them too much time on the ball and allowed them to play the ball anywhere they wanted and that’s something we have to stop against Chicago.”
The Fire expect to have left back Gonzalo Segares in the lineup for Saturday. He missed last Saturday’s 1-1 draw against San Jose with a minor ankle injury.
Notes: Defender Darren O’Dea, a 25-year-old Irish international, was signed Friday by Toronto but will not play in Saturday’s game against Chicago. O’Dea who has played for Celtic in the Scottish Premier League was acquired to stabilize the central defence. ....French striker Eric Hassli, who was acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 20, could make his Toronto FC debut on Saturday. He has been out with an ankle injury. He was on the bench for Wednesday’s CCL game but Mariner said he did not want to risk re-injuring the ankle by rushing him back into action. ...Toronto’s next game is Aug. 11 at Columbus.