Toronto’s Eric Hassli: MLS playoff dream over, focus now squarely on Champions League

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Let’s hear it for candor. Also known as “Tellin’ in like it is.”

That’s what the guys around Toronto FC are doing ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash with Santos Laguna. Paul Mariner’s side launched its Champions League adventure with a resounding win over El Salvador’s Aguila. But tonight’s contest against Mexico’s powerful Santos is a whole different crate of Canadian pickled eggs.

The candor comes in knowing exactly what this competition means for Toronto this year. In a word: everything. Said TFC striker Eric Hassli:

“Everybody knows the [MLS] playoffs are over for us and we have to really focus in the Champions League.”

Tis’ true. There’s no chance for a mad dash into the playoffs.

Adding pressure to it all is this year’s CCL format, a brutally unforgiving one.

To reduce the schedule jam for teams in Champions League group play, CONCACAF officials wisely reduced the group stage. Rather than groups of four (so, six games), teams this year are playing in groups of three. That means just four group-stage matches – but it also means that only the group winner advances to the tournament quarterfinals.

One loss at home means a team is probably done.

Tonight’s match begins at 8 p.m. ET on Fox Socccer Channel.