BY ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. — Toronto FC made Canadian soccer history on Wednesday, knocking off the LA Galaxy, 2-1 to become the first Canadian side to advance to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League. TFC will take on Mexican side Santos Laguna in the CCL semifinals.
Three key saves by goalkeeper Milos Kocic and a pair of goals from Ryan Johnson and Nick Soolsma proved the difference as Toronto FC advanced to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League with a 4-3 aggregate advantage. The Galaxy were able to get on board by virtue of a Ty Harden own goal in the 55th minute.
After developing a habit of surrendering late goals last season — including one to Landon Donovan in the 89th minute of the first leg — TFC was able to buckle down and hold on to defeat the defending MLS Cup champions.
"The way we started the season last week playing football, we want to play football and every day, every training, every game we are playing we are growing in the game," said Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter. "It’s still early in the season but we are on the right track and to win away is good, especially in LA against the champion."
After promising to make substitutions after two taxing matches in less than a week, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena made just a single substitution on Wednesday, swapping Juninho for the cap-tied Marcelo Sarvas. Meanwhile, Winter made three changes from the first leg. One was Soolsma, who set up the opening goal and scored the series-winning goal. Another was replacing goalkeeper Stefan Frei with Kocic, who responded with an outstanding performance.
Kocic's swap paid immediate dividends as Kocic quickly turned away a Mike Magee chance in the 17th minute that nearly put the Galaxy up 1-0. Following the same script from a week earlier, Toronto got on the board first, scoring in the 34th minute when Nick Soolsma fired a cross into the box that found Johnson, who out lept rookie defender Tommy Meyer and headed it past Saunders to put TFC up 1-0.
Los Angeles found the equalizer in the 55th minute of play when Donovan sent in a cross to Keane that found the foot of ex-Galaxy defender Ty Harden, beating Kocic. As the half wore on, Toronto began to create pressure against the Galaxy and in 67th minute they broke through. Returning the favor for his earlier goal, it was Johnson,who out worked Meyer yet again to send in a cross to Soolsma, who headed the ball past Saunders for a 2-1 TFC advantage.
After exposing him twice during the match, Johnson admitted during the postgame that Toronto actively targeted the rookie defender.
“Yeah, when I heard that he was starting besides Boyens," said Johnson. "Boyens is physically 6’4, 6’5 so he’s a hard guy to jump with, when I saw that they made that switch, we kind of thought that we could win those head balls and get some chances that way."
Down a goal and needing one to level the aggregate, the Galaxy pressed ahead, but poor finishing and clutch saves from Kocic proved to be the Galaxy's downfall. This was no more apparent than in the 74th minute when Keane found himself alone on Kocic, but rather than fire off a shot immediately, the Irish forward hesitated and launched a shot directly into the body of the TFC goalkeeper.
"They definitely packed the back," said Magee. "They sat back but we had some good chances, and it's kind of been the story of our season so far, not finishing chances and give up soft goals. Hopefully that changes soon."
In order to correct those mistakes, the Galaxy admit that they simply need time to gel.
"I think the biggest thing that we need is time to get on the practice field and work on things, because when your playing game after game, you don't have time to train," said Donovan. "As disappointing as this is, at least after this weekend we have two full weeks to get back on the field, watch tape, work on things that we need to get better at, so that we can all start gelling better."
Now after an emotional two-game series, both teams must change gears for a grueling MLS season that has only just begun. TFC open their MLS season on Saturday at CenturyLink Field against the Seattle Sounders while the Galaxy host DC United on Sunday.
But before changing their focus to the MLS season, Johnson admitted that TFC will be savoring their historic victory.
"I feel happy for Toronto, this is something that I’ve personally always wanted for Toronto, since coming here and seeing the passion of the fans," said Johnson. "They’re really passionate up there and I’m happy to bring them farther than they’ve ever been. I really hope that we keep on going. "