Has Toronto FC turned a corner?
With a 3-11-10 record and sitting in second-last place in the Eastern Conference, TFC stands poised to miss the Major League Soccer playoffs for a fifth consecutive year.
But Toronto has showed signs of life, most recently coming from behind to earn a 2-2 tie with the Portland Timbers on Saturday. That result allowed the Reds to end a four-game losing streak in MLS and earn a rare point on the road – they have yet to win away from home this season in 12 matches.
TFC will be looking to continue its minor rejuvenation Tuesday when it visits Nicaraguan side Real Esteli in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League qualifier.
Toronto won the opener 2-1 at home last week. The Canadian outfit can clinch a spot in the group stage of the CONCACAF tournament, which features the 16 best clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean, with a draw on Tuesday.
Real Esteli can move on with a 1-0 victory over the Reds. If the Nicaraguans lead 2-1 after regulation time, the game will go into 30 minutes of extra time and then penalties to decide the match.
The winner of the home-and-away series advances to the first round of the Champions League and will compete in Group C with Mexico’s Pumas, Tauro of Panama, and either MLS side FC Dallas or Alianza of El Salvador.
While defence continues to be a problem (Toronto has conceded a league-high 43 goals this season) the Reds’ offence has improved with two goals in each of their last two MLS games.
Of note, youngster Peri Marosevic scored in his TFC debut Saturday in Portland, two days after being picked up by the club off waivers.
“Words can't really describe that,” Marosevic told the team’s official website. “First of all, I've got to thank Toronto FC for giving me that opportunity, having that trust in me and taking that chance.
“Obviously coming here to Portland, it's a tough environment and we knew we were going to face a good side. But we grouped ourselves together well and this team has great character and it showed — we worked hard for each other and we never gave up and it showed in the second half."
With another MLS game on Saturday, away to DC United, Toronto coach Aron Winter is expected to juggle his starting line-up for Tuesday’s tilt.
Starter Stefan Frei was given the night off last week against Real Esteli, as backup Milos Kocic played his first game of 2011 for the Reds. The Serbian conceded a late goal when he failed to smother an easy ball played back into his box, so it will be interesting to see who starts in goal.
If Winter decides to go with Frei, the Swiss star will make his 93rd career appearance for the Reds, tying the team record set by former captain Jim Brennan.