CCL: Toronto Advances; Colorado, LA, Up Next

Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki was in the house at Pizza Hut Park last night, tweeting earlier in the day that he wanted to see “Brek Shea before he goes to the Bundesliga.” But it was Toronto FC’s Joao Plata, not Shea, who shined brightest in the pivotal CONCACAF Champions League clash between the Hoops and the Reds.

The diminutive Ecuadorian set up Danny Koevermans for the game’s first goal in the 28th minute, then added strikes of his own in the 69th and 81st minutes to ice the match and salvage TFC’s season, sending them to the CCL quarterfinals with a 3-0 win after the club had been eliminated from MLS playoff contention on Oct 1.

Here are the highlights:

FC Dallas—which opened the CCL group-stage by becoming the first MLS club ever to win in Mexico, downing Pumas 1-0 in Mexico City—needed only a draw last night to advance to the quarters. They got some promising forays from Nowitzki’s boy Shea, as well as from Jackson, and Honduran speedster Marvin Chavez, but it was Toronto’s, and Plata’s, night.

TFC joins MLS side Seattle Sounders FC in the CCL quarterfinals, which begin next March.

The Colorado Rapids face Santos Laguna in Mexico tonight (8:00 pm ET, Fox Soccer) with a chance of advancing, and the Los Angeles Galaxy take on Motagua in Honduras on Thursday (10:00 pm ET, Fox Soccer). Wins for both U.S. clubs would put four MLS sides in the CCL quarterfinals.

The Rapids are sending a mixture of reserves and starters to Santos Laguna, a club that routed Colorado 4-1 in their previous CCL meeting.

Midfielders Pablo Mastroeni, Jamie Smith, and Brian Mullan will miss the match, along with defender Tyrone Marshall and first-choice keeper Matt Pickens. Mastroeni (concussion) and Smith (calf) are injured; the other three are being rested for the Rapids’ MLS season finale against Vancouver on Saturday.

Los Angeles’s opponent, Motagua, is already eliminated from the competition, having lost all five of their group-stage games. The Galaxy are sending both David Beckham and Landon Donovan down to Honduras for the game (Robbie Keane is out with a groin strain)—though Donovan (quadriceps) said it will be a gametime decision for him as to whether to play or not.

Baltimore Blast

Old-school indoor soccer aficionados will recognize that header above as a team from the MISL (actually, they don’t have to be old-school; turns out the Blast still exists, to our surprise).

But we’re deploying it here to describe yesterday’s 2011 MLS SuperDraft in Maryland, which the BP attended, under the guise of its alter-ego the PG.

We cranked out this and this, and generally had a great time watching the proceedings up close (we sat adjacent to a dapper-looking Frank Yallop and the San Jose Earthquakes staff).

The Baltimore trip also explains why the posting rate here at the BP has slowed to a trickle (down from a drip) this week. Between draft prep, day job, and travel, the BP got shoved to the back burner.

But we’re back, late on a Friday to share a few post-draft musings, in no particular order. Here they are:

• First up, John Rooney has a rather endearing and almost totally incomprehensible Liverpudlian accent. He makes Steve McManaman sound like Richard Burton. (McManaman, we just found out, is from Bootle, a town on the outskirts of Liverpool that has the best name of any town ever.)

• We had to tweak our story on Rooney, linked above, just slightly, due to some small objections from league higher-ups. Nothing major—just concerns about the image of the league vis-a-vis top-flight European leagues.

We mention it because it diluted our point a little bit, and enough to contribute to a misunderstanding expressed in the comments: We weren’t suggesting the British press would deluge MLS with coverage just for the mere presence of Rooney in the league. Our point was that if–and it’s a big if–Rooney happened to blossom, become an MLS All-Star, and attract interest from first-division European leagues, then the British press would be all over MLS. (This was our original best-case scenario in the piece.)

Anyway, this kind of shackling occasionally comes with the territory when you’re writing for a league site. The corporate overseers have ideas about protecting the league image.

• One player we didn’t include in the “Surprises” segment of our draft wrap-up piece was Ecuadorian attacker Joao Plata, who led the Combine in scoring, then tumbled all the way to the bottom of the third round (49th overall), where he was picked by Toronto FC.

Plata is small (some said under 5′ 5″), but that never stopped Mauricio Cienfuegos back in the day , and Cienfuegos wasn’t exceptionally fast, as Plata certainly is (like, Dane Richards fast). He’ll be an interesting one to watch this spring.

• The Red Bulls’ top pick, Penn State striker Corey Hertzog, seemed curiously nonplussed to be joining the New York side—Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez be damned.

At the podium, Hertzog had the demeanor of a guy opening up a dud present on Christmas morning and trying to act pleased. That may have been due to the Philly fans jeering his selection by New York (Hertzog is from Reading, PA).

He did some damage control later, telling the league website he was pumped just to meet Henry, much less play alongside him. Hertzog scored 20 goals in college action last year, leading the nation.

• After New York grabbed Rooney with the 25th pick, they selected NC State defender Tyler Lassiter at No. 30, and Maryland midfielder Billy Cortes in Round 3 (38th overall). Coach Hans Backe described Lassiter as “a Tim Ream type, almost exaclty.”

In our view, RBNY could have added some more depth to its backline, which said goodbye to Mike Petke and Jeremy Hall after the 2010 season, but perhaps they plan to acquire another defender or two elsewhere.

• Akron had two other players, defender Chris Korb and midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong, selected in this draft after their record five in the first round (in the first eight picks), to give the Zips an incredible seven draftees from their 2011 NCAA championship team.

You’d think it would be hard to reload after that, but supposedly coach Caleb Porter (an MLS alum) will field another contender next season.

Finally, Ampaipitakwong (that’s AM-PIE-PITAK-WONG) went to San Jose (as the 33rd pick overall), prompting MLS Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle to quip, “If Ampaipitakwong and Chris Wondolowski link up for a goal, it could break Twitter.”

Have a great weekend everyone. We’ll be back on Monday.