Plata leads Toronto FC into Champions quarter-finals

Joao Plata scored two second-half goals and Danny Koevermans scored in the first half as Toronto FC defeated FC Dallas 3-0 Tuesday to advance to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Toronto FC forward Ryan Johnson, right, goes after the ball with FC Dallas defender George John at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Dallas Morning News, Matt Strasen)

Playing a huge game against a team that has shut them down time and again this season, Toronto FC came up with one of the finest performances in the team's five-year history.

With Joao Plata scoring twice in the second half to add to Danny Koevermans first-half strike, Toronto FC dominated FC Dallas 3-0 on Tuesday to reach the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time.

The victory before a sparse crowd at Pizza Hut Park gave Toronto 10 points in six Group C matches with three wins, two losses and a draw.

"I'm very proud of the performance of the players on the pitch," said Aron Winter who is completing his first season as head coach and technical director. "We have given nothing away, maybe two opportunities for Dallas to score. It's also a great day for the whole TFC because it's the first time they have qualified for the next round."

It also takes some of the sting away from not making Major League Soccer's playoffs for the fifth year running.

"We couldn't reach the playoffs and then if we can achieve this as a team, beating Dallas in Dallas with 3-0, everybody is satisfied," said Koevermans who joined the team at mid-season as a designated player. "The fans that came over here it was fantastic for them, also big, massive. It was a great game for everyone."

Toronto ends its season Saturday against New England on Saturday at BMO Field. The Champions League quarter-finals begin next March.

Dallas has had Toronto's number this season, beating TFC twice in MLS action and once in the Champions League — all by 1-0 scores.

"If they had had that performance the whole season they wouldn't be finishing the season up this weekend," Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman said. "I thought they came to play. I thought they played unselfishly, they bought into the system, they were physical, they did everything they needed to do to absolutely kick our ass."

Dallas and Toronto entered their sixth and final Champions League Group C match with tied for second with seven points each. Pumas of Mexico led with eight points and Tauro of Panama had five.

Koevermans put Toronto ahead in the 29th minute. Julian de Guzman passed to Plata who got the ball in front to Koevermans. The Dutch striker who put it home with his right foot from the centre of the box.

"He puts the ball back, I'm trying to get rid of my man, I succeed," Koevermans said, "but only I miss with my left foot and with a little bit of luck the ball comes up and stays in my zone and I still kick it in."

Toronto tried to add to the lead just past the hour mark when Ashtone Morgan picked up the ball on Dallas turnover and fed Plata whose shot was handled by goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.

Finally they had success in the 69th minute when Plata made a deft back heel pass to Ryan Johnson who returned the ball to Plata in the middle of the box. Plata made no mistake with his right-footed shot.

The second goal to extend a 1-0 lead is something that Toronto has been unable to do often enough this season. It came just after Dallas changed its formation to press for an equalizer.

"That's what we said at half time we said as a group we all said the same thing, we have to get the next goal, we have to get the next goal," Toronto midfielfer Ryan Johnson said. "That's been our problem since I've been here for the last half of the year, just closing out games."

The second goal opened up the chance for the third on the counter. Plata then put the game out of reach when he put in a right-footed shot from outside the box into the bottom right corner.

Dallas had trouble sustaining any pressure on Toronto. They did come close in the 73rd minute when Jackson Goncalves headed the ball over the goal after a corner.

Koevermans was a presence early in the game when he forced a save from Hartman with his header in the 15th minute.

Dallas had a good chance in the 21st minute when Jackson headed just wide to the right after Brek Shea's cross.

About 15 minutes later goalkeeper Milos Kocic came out aggressively to pick off a high diagonal pass from Shea intended for Jackson.

The Toronto defence withstood a dangerous Dallas free kick from the edge of the penalty area in the 43rd minute after defender Andy Iro picked up a yellow card for his foul on Marvin Chavez.

Nick Soolsma picked up Toronto's second yellow card in the 58th minute, and de Guzman also picked up a yellow in the 76th. Terry Dunfield replaced de Guzman soon after.