Santos Laguna 6 – Toronto FC 2
Even though TFC went further than anyone ever expected, with perhaps the longest consecutive streak ever of "the biggest game in the history of the club", the second half of Wednesday night's game was still gutting to watch as up until the 45th minute, Toronto gave every indication they would not follow the same fate as Montreal, and most recently, Seattle.
In the end it was only one goal better in Mexico than the Sounders, and the second half unraveling looked all too familiar. The two goals from Herculez Gomez, and the manner in which they unfolded, might have been a signal Toronto might not have had the horses to compete over ninety minutes.
The score does not tell the whole story as it was a tale of almost two halves, and two sets of players. In the attack, it was Gomez again who made his mark, but TFC were one step ahead initially with Joao Plata delivering his first signature performance of 2012. Alongside Plata in the first half, one cannot overstate the leaps of improvement Nick Soolsma has made, so much he ended left back Jose Olvera's night within thirty minutes.
The second set of players who made their mark, but unfortunately not in any positive way, was Miguel Aceval and Julian De Guzman. Both players have over 250 games in their careers, but made errors that were genuinely shocking for that level of experience. De Guzman's penalty and Aceval's overall poor positioning and tackling were the most glaring moments that one cannot avoid hailing as significant factors in the loss.
Bowing out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage is a massive achievement for a club that has had no accolades, or even reached the playoffs, in the MLS. There is no time to dwell on the defeat now as they will head into Montreal to begin another rivalry that will likely be just as, if not more fierce than what was seen over the last week.
The key to the ratings, as seems to be the logic on a scale of 1-10, is not to view it as a “grade”, as in a 6 would be a 60 or a C. The formula is that each player begins the game with a 5 and is the equilibrium from which their performance either improves or degrades moving in increments of .5.
Here is the breakdown of the starting XI:
Milos Kocic - 5
Six goals without question is a hard pill to swallow, and is often the case with TFC, you can hardly fault the keeper for the vast majority of them. Kocic looked very game early on, being positionally sound stopping shots from distance and throughout the match never lacking commitment to challenge anything on goal.
Richard Eckersley - 5
While he was a bit rough defending on the flanks, much like Morgan, Eckersley was one of the few who was able to cope with the competition and have a good two-way game for most of the match.
Ty Harden - 4.5
A rough night in the middle but to be fair on the second goal, you simply can't expect Harden to be able to keep pace with Gomez and the pass to him should have been closed down. Aside from that, Harden definitely put in his work and can leave this game with a decent display considering the final score.
Miguel Aceval - 3.5
There's really no delicate way to put this, but it was a very poor outing for someone who is the most experienced defender on the backline compared to the other three players, combined. The positioning against Gomez was shocking as was the manner in which he chose to deal with the ball in the box that lead to the second penalty. For someone who has played for a big team in South America, Aceval should be able to deliver much more.
Ashtone Morgan - 5
The youngster kept himself in the match as it spun out of control, with a consistent dispaly of overlaps and balls into the Santos box. Had a few moments where against a speedy opponent, relied too much on physicality, or turned around in the box, but at his age can look at it as a valuable learning experience.
Julian De Guzman - 4
It will likely be remembered as the play that was the first nail in the coffin, as De Guzman's penalty essentially gave Santos all the momentum and leverage to see out the rest of the game. Poor decision making is not becoming of a captain and overall this game required him to be on another level both mentally and physically and De Guzman did not deliver on this night.
Terry Dunfield - 5
Another short night for Dunfield, who was hit and miss but provided what was necessary in the early going which was a commitment to get dirty and provide a physicality around the box and win balls back.
Nick Soolsma - 6
One of the few bright lights for Toronto who looked great on the wing, drawing three players at times to deal with his knuckle-ball approach to 1v1 battles. His work on the right side, as well as superb touch to release Plata on the second goal, further confirms how far he's come over the last year.
Luis Silva – 5
There is plenty of optimism of what Silva can possibly provide, and his shot off the cross did set up the opener, but hasn't influenced the game quite the same as he did right out of the gate. A player that needs to up his two way game significantly if he is to be a mainstay and effective player.
Joao Plata – 6.5
A shame that such a fantastic first half went to waste, as this was the Plata supporters have been waiting for over the last month. Very encouraging to see that he has finally broken out and is able to influence a game with clinical goal scoring. If he can take this forward, and maybe pass it on to Koevermans, Toronto will be much better off in the short term.
Ryan Johnson – 5.5
Another hard working, physical outing for Johnson who, if anything, has been consistent in his performances in what he brings to the table each match. It appeared fatigue might be getting the better of him as that final push to make things happen did not appear to be there.