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Extra games a shot at glory

It’s two more games requiring lots of extra travel at an already busy time of the season.

It’s two more games requiring lots of extra travel at an already busy time of the season.

The preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League, which opens tonight at BMO Field, appears to be a big burden on a Toronto FC side struggling to regain its form as it battles to make the Major League Soccer playoffs for the first time.

Appearances are deceptive. For this is a competition the Reds — and their supporters and owners — definitely want in on.

The CONCACAF Champions League, like its much higher profile cousin in Europe, runs concurrent to the domestic season and features the top club teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean. The winner, who will be crowned next spring, advances to the annual FIFA Club World Cup against the title holders from other continents.

“This is something that could change the culture of football, not just for the club, but for the country,” said midfielder Julian de Guzman, a former player in Spain’s top-flight La Liga, when asked about the significance of the competition. “Being involved in a prestige tournament, especially the Champions League, is a huge thing we’ve been fighting for.”

TFC marched confidently to its second straight Canadian championship over the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact without conceding a goal this spring. That gave the Reds a ticket to the preliminary round, a two-game set against Club Deportivo Motagua of Honduras, which qualified as runner-up of the 2010 domestic Clausura.

TFC, which lost 1-0 on aggregate to the Puerto Rico Islanders in last year’s Champions League preliminary round, knows the importance of a successful start tonight, especially with the return leg slated for the altitude of Tegucigalpa a week later.

“Obviously, going down there for the second leg is going to be tough, not only the travel but the environment as well,” said midfielder Jacob Peterson.

“We want to come out strong, push the tempo, get up early and then see what happens down in Honduras.”

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