By Dylan Butler
The Toronto FC-Santo Laguna game Tuesday will not only be a rematch of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal clash in March that ended rather contentiously, it could go a long way toward determining which squad goes to this season's knockout round.
Both teams already have beaten CD Aguila convincingly at home in their first Group 1 matches. TFC won 5-1 on August 1 and Santos won 5-0 on August 21. And the last time they squared off at BMO Field, Osmar Mares was ejected in the 77th minute, Carlos Darwin Quintero was issued a red card after the match and security had to intervene to quell a post-game fracas.
Santos went home to claim the second leg 6-2 and earn a berth in the finals.
Both teams come into Tuesday's match in less-than-optimum form.
Since beating Aguila, Toronto FC is winless in five straight matches, but rallied to tie the Houston Dynamo Saturday night with Terry Dunfield heading in the 85th-mintue equalizer at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Designated players Eric Hassli and Torsten Frings were rested ahead of Tuesday's Santos showdown.
"I thought we played very well," Ireland international defender Danny O'Dea said. "I think we could have won in the end, but we definitely improved our performance and now hopefully the results will come and if we keep playing hard, we will win more than we lose."
Likewise, Santos stretched its domestic winless streak to four matches after playing Pachuca to a 0-0 draw Saturday at Estadio Hidalgo, but coach Benjamin Galindo was pleased to earn a point away from home.
"Today what I liked about the team is that all the players defended and attacked," Galindo said. "Beyond that we have improved tactically in corner kicks. We had many advantages."
In Group 6 on Tuesday, Real Esteli hosts Alajuelense in another critical group stage match.
Alajuelense played group-leading Tigres to a 2-2 draw last week with Luis Miguel Valle scoring the dramatic equalizer in second-half stoppage time for the Costa Rican club.
UANL leads the group with four points from two matches, while Alajuelense has one from the draw, and Real Esteli dropped a 4-0 decision to Tigres in the Group 6 opener August 1.
On Saturday, Alajuelense again rallied for a draw, getting a 77th-minute equalizer for a 2-2 tie against Saprissa. It was a result that kept them atop the Costa Rican Invierno with 15 points from seven matches.
"I am very proud and very happy with the team, we largely had control of the match with very simple football," Alajuelense coach Oscar Ramirez. "Tigres, the other day, gave us a good lesson to learn. I think we improved some things."
Real Esteli enters the match with confidence after beating rival Caciques Diriangen 2-0 on a pair of goals by Elmer Mejia in the seventh round of the Nicaraguan Apertura on Saturday.