By Dylan Butler
Four months ago, Toronto FC was basking in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League campaign, upsetting Major League Soccer rival the LA Galaxy to reach the final four.
Now it must restart itself in the competition, having gone winless in 11 since the Los Angeles win, won a fourth Canadian title, changed coaches, turned over its roster and enjoyed some success as of late. TFC will get its first test in the Champions League Wednesday night, hosting Aguila in a Group 1 opener at BMO Field.
After its 11-game slid and winning only one of 14, Toronto FC has steadied itself somewhat under new coach Paul Mariner, with more wins since July 11 than it had in the first four months of the MLS season. The Reds saw their season-high three-match win streak snapped Saturday by the Houston Dynamo, losing 2-0 at BMO Field.
It was 90 minutes TFC quickly wants to put behind them.
"We can't dwell on it too much," defender Richard Eckersley said. "It's really disappointing. We could have broke records today with four [consecutive] wins, but we've got a game Wednesday and we've just got to go again and perform well Wednesday."
Following a season-ending injury to Danny Koevermans, TFC acquired Andrew Wiedeman from FC Dallas and also acquired Quincy Amarikwa from the New York Red Bulls. Both players scored in their debuts - Wiederman against the Colorado Rapids in league play and Amarikwa in a 1-1 draw in a friendly against Liverpool.
Toronto FC also acquired forward and designated player Eric Hassli in a trade with Vancouver. In 44 appearances with the Whitecaps, the 31-year-old Frenchman scored 12 goals.
"Adding a player of Eric's ability gives an immediate improvement to our club," Mariner said. "He has had a lot of success in this league and we are pleased to bring him to Toronto."
Aguila, the Salvadoran Clausura champion, is making its first CONCACAF Champions League appearance. The squad has made several changes from the Apertura season, adding seven newcomers, including Gerson Mayen. The 23-year-old American midfielder previously played for Chivas USA in MLS and Miami FC, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Los Angeles Misioneros.
"He's a player that, despite being young, is tested in footballing and played in MLS, which is a major league," Aguila coach Victor Coreas told Pa Prensa Grafica. "He will help a lot."
"Es un jugador que a pesar de ser joven, está probado futbolísticamente, ya que viene de jugar en la MLS, que es una liga importante. Nos va a ayudar mucho", reconoció el entrenador migueleño sobre Mayén.
The Puerto Rico Islanders and Isidro Metapan are no strangers to CONCACAF Champions League play - they join Olimpia from Honduras as the only five-time competitors - and the two will open up Group 5 action Wednesday night at Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez.
In the second round of the Salvadoran Apertura on July 21, Metapan beat rival CD FAS 2-1 with a pair of goals by Panamanian forward Nicolas Munoz, formerly of FAS. Munoz is among a handful of newcomers in the Apertura campaign, including Salvadoran international Eliseo Quintanilla, who transferred from Municipal. Metapan opened the Apertura campaign with a 2-2 draw against Santa Tecla.
With an eye toward the rest of its domestic campaign and the CONCACAF Champions League, Puerto Rico announced the addition of three new players on July 25. The Islanders signed defenders Christian Ibeagha and Paraskevas Pantazopoulos as well as attacking player Christian Barreiro, who was selected by the New York Red Bulls in the 2010 MLS Supplemental Draft.
Puerto Rico also acquired Guyanese midfielder Christopher Nurse, who was transferred from the Carolina Railhawks. Nurse previously competed for Puerto Rico in 2010, helping guide the squad to a USSF Division 2 championship.
On Saturday, Puerto Rico, in third place in the NASL, defeated the Minnesota Stars 1-0 on a second-half goal by captain Noah Delgado. It was the club's final match at Bayamon Soccer Complex while Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium was renovated.
"I was extremely disappointed with the first half," Puerto Rico coach Adrian Whitbread told the Islanders official website. "We could have found ourselves one or two goals behind. But the second half was a completely different game and we were a completely different team.
"I asked them in the locker room why they were waiting or something to happen when they could make it happen. Sometimes a little negativity creeps in after a miniature run of bad form, but we got the result we needed and now we are really looking forward to the Champions League match midweek."
Coming off its first Mexican league title in 29 years, Tigres UANL will make its Champions League debut Wednesday night against Real Esteli in a Group 6 opener at Estadio Universitario.
Tigres, which has just one defeat in its last 30 home matches, lost forward Hector Mancilla to Atlas, but signed Spaniard Luis Garcia on loan from Real Zaragoza and Taufic Guarch on loan from Estudiantes Tecos to fill the void up front.
UANL opened the Mexican Apertura campaign with a 4-0 win over Chiapas with Juninho, Manuel Viniegra, Alan Pulido and captain Lucas Lobos finding the back of the net.
On Saturday, Tigres rallied from a 1-0 deficit to beat Atlante, 2-1, at home as Lobos and Hugo Ayala scored goals in the 15 minutes.
Real Esteli, meanwhile, makes its third CONCACAF Champions League appearance. The Nicaraguan Clausura champion have added Urugyuian Gabriel Mirazo, who transferred from Sociedade Esportiva River Plate, Ronald Jaramillo, who transferred from Deportivo Pereira and Norfran Lazo, who transferred from Deportivo Walter Ferretti.
Esteli opened the Nicaraguan Apertura campaign with a 4-2 win over Chinandega, its only competitive match since the Clausura. Its match Saturday against Deportivo Ocotal was postponed.