CCL Preview: LA prepared to face Toronto at raucous Rogers Centre
TORONTO – There will be no argument from Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter if the LA Galaxy are rated the favorites in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.
After all, Winter said, the Galaxy have more history and have won more hardware, not the least of which are their MLS Cup 2011 title and back-to-back Supporters’ Shields.
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But Winter says his Reds will be ready, backed by a sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre in Wednesday’s first leg (8 pm ET/5 pm PT, Fox Soccer, concacaf.com, lagalaxy.com/gamedaylive).
“[We’re] a good team,” Winter told reporters on Tuesday at the domed stadium that normally plays home to baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays. “If you watched the players, how we trained, they’re focused. We don’t have to tell them about the strengths of the opponent. They know it.”
The Reds try to play a possession game, keeping the ball on the ground, which could be especially important against a team like the Galaxy and on the Rogers Centre’s artificial turf. Always vocal in their dislike of artificial grass, LA coaches and players once again expressed their dismay of the facility’s turf. But all stopped short of saying it would impact the match.
“I don’t think anyone has an advantage with the surface because Toronto hasn’t trained on it either,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s one thing if Toronto was here during the preseason training on it, but it’s the same for everyone.”
Head coach Bruce Arena even went so far as to praise the field, in relative terms.
“It’s a decent field for these surfaces,” he said. “It’s certainly better than the fields we’ve seen in Seattle and New England. There are no excuses about the field.”
More concerning for the Galaxy is not the field, but rather the players from the other side on it. Toronto did well to turn things around at the end of 2011 and propelled themselves into this stage of the tournament. The main man that will occupy the Galaxy’s thoughts will be Danny Koevermans, who scored eight goals in 10 regular-season games a year ago.
“From everything I see, he’s a real good player,” Arena said of the Dutch Designated Player. “He’s the real deal. He’s as good a forward as there is in the league.”
Arena also praised the rest of the team, who he noted finished the year with confidence and will be carrying that swagger into Wednesday’s match in front of more than 45,000.
And they’ll need it against a team as stacked as LA, according to TFC lead assistant Bob de Klerk.
“I think you have to try to always play your own game as much as you can and let the ball do the work,” de Klerk told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “As long as we have the ball, they can’t score. So keep the ball. But it will be tough because they have a very good team.
“They also can win a game with set pieces so we have to be very aware also about that. And I’m always thinking keep the ball on the ground, especially on artificial turf.”
The Galaxy will be without injured stalwart defender Omar Gonzalez. But Edson Buddle has returned to the club after playing last season in Germany.
“Their biggest thing is their service, their strikers,” TFC forward Ryan Johnson said. “Getting Buddle back so soon was a huge blow. I didn’t like that when I heard that he came back. He’s a guy that anything around the box he’s going to be hunting for it and trying to put it in.
“You add him to the team and that’s just goal-scoring pedigree right there. Obviously, [David] Beckham with his services to guys like Buddle and [Robbie] Keane is going to be tough. So we just have to kind of deny the service, deny them getting their rhythm and just try to disturb anything they have going as quickly as possible.”