We’re willing to bet Torsten Frings had an interesting experience during the past couple of days. The former German international, Werder Bremen star, veteran of two World Cups and dozens of Champions League games traveled to Nicaragua with Toronto FC for the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League play-in series against Real Esteli last night.
Frings had probably never played in a venue comparable to Estadio Independencia, Real Esteli’s 4,800-seat stadium with the patchy, uneven, and completely overgrown field. Players boots disappeared in the luxurious meadow of a pitch, and passes had to be hit with a little extra crispness to reach their target.
But thanks to two goals from Ryan Johnson—yes, we completely buried the lede here—the visitors overcame these obstacles and won the game 2-1 (and the series 4-2 on aggregate) to advance to the group stage of the CCL. Johnson scored with a beautifully taken volley in the 37th minute, and then coolly finished after a botched clearance by Real Esteli keeper Carlos Mendieta in the 47th.
Here are the highlights:
The win was the first ever road win in CCL play for Toronto and a huge breath of fresh air in what’s been a miserable season for the Reds. TFC has cycled through a record 36 players this year (tying the dubious mark set by the 1996 NY/NJ MetroStars) as new coach Aron Winter looked for the right combinations, and they’ve compiled a record of 3-11-10.
But after last night’s win, they now have plenty to play for this season, despite their awful status in MLS.
In the next stage, the Reds will be grouped with Mexican side Pumas UNAM, Panamanian team Tauro and the winner of the FC Dallas–Alianza FC series, which wraps up tonight as Dallas hosts the El Salvadoran side (8:00, Fox Soccer Channel). The Hoops hold a 1-0 lead heading into the series finale.