TFC defense in need of answers to stop Gomez, Santos Laguna in CCL semifinals

TFC defense in need of answers to stop Gomez, Santos Laguna in CCL semifinals

MLS- Toronto FC

TFC defense in need of answers to stop Gomez, Santos Laguna in CCL semifinals

TFC (Getty Images)

If Toronto FC is to figure out a remedy for their defensive problems, Wednesday night would be an ideal time to do so.

TFC, Major League Soccer's last hope in the CONCACAF Champions League, welcomes red-hot Herculez Gomez and in-form Santos Laguna to BMO Field Wednesday night for the opening match of their CCL semifinal match (8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel/Telefutura/CONCACAF.com).

After Toronto upset the Los Angeles Galaxy in the quarterfinals, there was reason for belief in the success-starved Reds. After all, if they could eliminate the star-studded Galaxy, what's to say they couldn't take down a Mexican power as well? With Ryan Johnson performing like an All-Star forward, rookie midfielder Luis Silva making valuable contributions and Torsten Frings asserting control on both ends of the field, TFC had the makings of a capable underdog.

Oh, how the tide has turned.

Frings suffered a hamstring injury in the Reds' first league game after their CCL triumph, and the TFC defense has been catastrophic ever since. Without the sweeping German international providing cover, making up for shoddy organization and positioning all while distributing accurately out of the back, Toronto has transformed from a formidable unit into one that lacks momentum at a time when it needs it most.

Losing goalkeeper Stefan Frei to a broken leg has been a setback as well, but Milos Kocic, who came up big in the second leg against the Galaxy, has proven to be a steady option in between the posts. Not like it has really mattered who is in goal for the club, though. The combination of Ashtone Morgan, Miguel Aceval, Ty Harden and Richard Eckersley has been stretched and exposed along the back without Frings' assistance, and asking rookie Aaron Maund to step in and be the answer is a bit of a tall order. 

The club has conceded three goals in each of its last two matches — against the Seattle Sounders (the team that Santos Laguna thrashed en route to the semifinals) and the San Jose Earthquakes — inspiring little confidence heading into a battle with a front line of Gomez, Oribe Peralta and Cristian Suarez. Now that Colombian Darwin Quintero, who was starting ahead of Gomez, is fit, Santos has yet another weapon to throw forward.

The true spark behind Santos' surge and current four-game winning streak across all competitions, though, has been Gomez. The American forward has scored in six consecutive games, tallying eight times in that span. Three of those goals came against the Sounders in both legs of their CCL quarterfinal matchup. His hot streak, Santos' form and the lack of stability on Toronto's back line would appear to be a recipe for disaster for the MLS side, which is hoping to match Real Salt Lake's feat of a year ago and reach the final. The next step in that quest will take place tonight in front of a wary fan base, one that just booed its team off the field Saturday but hopes its club has another upset or two left in its pocket.

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