• Monday May 07, 2012

    ANALYSIS: Desire on display in CCL semis

    By Brian Dunseth

    If anyone had any questions about the desire of the four remaining teams heading into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, those were quickly put to rest in the opening first 15 minutes of both first leg match-ups.

    The night started off with Toronto FC playing host to Santos Laguna at BMO Field. Despite leaving Daniel Ludena at home and also being without captain Juan Pablo Rodriguez due to yellow card accumulation, coach Benjamin Galindo rolled out an very attack-minded starting XI with only Oribe Peralta left on the bench at the opening whistle.

    Injuries played into the personnel decisions by Toronto coach Aron Winter, who had to compensate for absences of German International Torsten Frings and goalkeeper Stefan Frei, hurt in the weeks and days prior to the match.

    With possession and chances dominated early and often by the visitors, it was no surprise to see U.S. international Herculez Gomez giving Santos the lead and an important road goal - his ninth in his last eight matches in both the Champions League and Mexican Clausura.

    But Toronto centerback Miguel Aceval would level for the home side just minutes later with a well struck free kick from just outside the top of the 18-yard box. And while his name won't show up on the score sheet, Terry Dunfield deserves a ton of credit for his individual work against the Santos defensive wall.

    It would end 1-1, but it is the referees' report and subsequent review that could hurt both teams the most.

    Not only was Osmar Mares ejected for his tackle of Richard Eckersley - which will keep him out of the second leg, but the post-match, bench-clearing skirmish that followed Colombian international Darwin Quintero's red card for a head butt on Toronto left back Ashtone Morgan could result in even more sanctions - maybe for Quintero, maybe for Morgan who Santos accused of initiating contact and maybe others who rushed in.

    The major concern for Toronto heading to Torreon is not only Santos' quarterfinal second-leg rout of Seattle (a 6-1 demolition that completed a 7-3 aggregate win), but Santos' accusations of Toronto "celebrating following the final whistle".

    Look for Benjamin Galindo to roll out all of the big guns from the start in the second leg, including the dominating presence of Panamanian international defender Felipe Baloy, who was left on the bench for the first leg.

    And what about Monterrey?

    The defending champion is cruising in the knockout phase. After easily dispatching fellow Mexican side and Clausura co-leader Morelia 7-2 in the quarterfinals, it dismantled Pumas at home in the opening leg of the semifinals.

    With Humberto Suazo directing the Monterrey attack, Aldo De Nigris and Co. continually stretched and pulled apart the Pumas back line.

    If you thought the grind of both league and tournament play would slow Monterrey, you were most definitely wrong. Dario Carreno and Suazo have five goals apiece in CCL play and De Nigris is just one behind as they head into next week's return leg in Mexico City.

    UNAM needs goals, and must throw everything forward from the opening whistle. But look for Monterrey to absorb the pressure early and expose an attacking backline of Pumas on the counter attack.


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