By ADAM SERRANO
An attendance of 7,500 was announced as Toronto FC defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals Wednesday night. According to TFC rookie midfielder Luis Silva, 300 of those were his own family and friends.
Born in Mexico, Silva was raised in East Los Angeles and attended UC Santa Barbara before being drafted by Toronto with the fourth overall selection in January's MLS SuperDraft. In the first leg, Silva scored the pivotal second goal that proved decisive as TFC advanced past the Galaxy with a 4-3 aggregate victory.
On Wednesday, just minutes after the Galaxy took the series lead on a Ty Harden own goal, TFC head coach Aron Winter called upon his rookie midfielder in the 63rd minute. Silva was welcomed into the match by cheers from a supportive crowd and had an immediate impact, nearly scoring in the 70th minute to put the match — and the series — out of reach.
While he may not have been able to score in front of his friends and family, Silva admitted that to knock off the club that he supported as a child provided for a homecoming straight out of his wildest dreams.
"It was nice, it was really emotional. I’m just grateful that everyone came and supported us. It was incredible," said Silva. "I give a lot of credit to my teammates. We never gave up and held on to the lead, not like in Toronto. That tells a lot, we learned a lot in a week and we just need to keep going now."
The only sour moment for Silva came on his missed chance, when he broke free of his mark and blasted a low shot just wide of the left post. Knowing just how close he came to his fairy tale moment, Silva grimaced.
"I thought I had it, but I over-hit it," Silva said.
Now the rookie midfielder will look ahead to his first season in the league, where he is already considered one of the front-runners for the MLS Rookie of the Year award. For the humble kid known as "Luigi" back in East L.A., personal honors are of little concern, as he focused on taking TFC to their first MLS playoff appearance in franchise history.
"We’re a new team and we had a poor finish last season, but we’ve got new faces and everyone has a winning mentality," said Silva. "So now we’re going to go and do our best."
BMO FIELD TO HOST CCL SEMIS
The scenes two weeks ago at the Rogers Centre were unforgettable. The raucous crowd of 47,000-plus created a one of the most memorable atmospheres Toronto FC's history during the first leg draw against the Galaxy.
But due to the club's fixture commitments and the venue's baseball commitments, TFC will be returning to BMO Field for their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg against Santos Laguna on March 28.
In an e-mail to the Canadian Press, Tom Anselmi, chief opperating officer of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, confirmed that despite giving the Rogers Centre "a quick thought" TFC will return to BMO Field for their semifinals.
"But only two weeks to turn around ticketing, the team is already settled in for MLS games on the 24th and 31st, trying to launch the season as well, Blue Jays getting ready to launch theirs, it makes more sense to stay at BMO," Anselmi said. "It will be rocking."
KOCIC SHINES AFTER REPLACING FREI
Paramount to Toronto FC's historic victory was the stout goalkeeping of TFC goalkeeper Milos Kocic. The Serbian goalkeeper stepped in for first leg starter Stefan Frei and immediately rose to the occassion, as his presence in goal proved too much for a Galaxy side that spent much of the match peppering his net.
None of Kocic's saves was bigger than the one that came in the 74th minute when he made a series-preserving stop on Galaxy forward Robbie Keane from close range.
While it remains to be seen if Kocic's stellar performance against the Galaxy will earn him a spot in goal for TFC's MLS opener against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, Winter admitted that he was quite pleased with the play of his Serbian goalkeeper.
"We had made the decision last week because we came so far and it was a big game for the whole club, for Toronto FC and Milos was a big part of that," said Winter after the match. "We reached the quarterfinal and it looks fair because they are both very good goalkeepers to let them play each of them a game and we have made the choice for Stefan at home and Milos away, and I think that’s fair for both of them."