Plata leads Toronto FC into Champions League quarter-finals

Joao Plata (Plata140)

Joao Plata and the rest of Toronto FC answered the call Tuesday night, defeating FC Dallas 3-0 in its final CONCACAF Champions League game.

Plata paced the Reds, setting up the opening goal by Danny Koevermans, and then netting two of his own in the second half.

With the win, Toronto FC advances to the next round of the Champions League for the first time in franchise history. The win not only caps the season but also served as revenge for three straight losses to FC Dallas.

The first half had both teams come out of the gate playing aggressively, knowing the importance of the outcome.

The Reds had the upper hand in the physicality department and it translated into some great opportunities.

Koevermans had an attempt at the net with a header in the 15th minute but was turned away by Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman.

The home side would have the next scoring chance at the 20th minute when Jackson Goncalves headed a ball from a cross that sailed far right of the goal.

Plata put on a display of speed and agility, first with a shot that went left of the Dallas net — even though Koevermans was open for a pass in front — and culminated with the pass that set up Toronto’s scoring opportunity.

The Reds did face a scare in the 34th minute when Dallas was given a free kick from the top of the box. Daniel Hernandez attempted the kick but Toronto’s wall blocked the shot.

Despite not facing any real challenge in the half, Toronto goalie Milos Kocic played well, seemingly catching the aggressive spirit of his teammates by challenging any shot or cross that came close to the box.

Toronto held advantage in the first half with six shots to Dallas’ five. However, the Reds clearly showed more physicality, serving up 11 fouls including a yellow card from Andy Iro in the 42nd minute.

In the 69th minute, Plata continued his assault on the Dallas defence.

After Ryan Johnson skillfully avoided a defender, he sent the ball over to Plata on the right side of the Dallas goal. The 19-year-old forward calmly collected the pass and set up a shot that beat Hartman on the low right side.

Plata would again find the back of the net in the 81st minute, sprinting down the left side before pulling up just inside the box, shifting to the right and firing a shot past Hartman.

The visitors continued with their dominant and aggressive play in the second half with Julian de Guzman and Nick Soolsma both picking up a yellow card for their efforts.

Toronto ends the MLS season this Saturday with a tilt against the New England Revolution at BMO Field, and will spend the off-season anticipating its March 2012 CONCACAF quarter-final berth.