LA CHORRERA, Panama — A sluggish Toronto FC suffered a nightmarish start to its Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League campaign in a 4-0 loss Tuesday to Panama's Club Atletico Independiente de la Chorrera in a round-of-16 game.
The MLS side, which made it to the final of last year's competition, has dug itself a deep hole it will try to play its way out of in the Feb. 26 return leg at BMO Field. Unable to register a valuable away goal Tuesday, it will need a scoring spree.
The knockout tournament features 16 top club teams from CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America and the Caribbean. The winner advances to the FIFA Club World Cup.
Romeesh Ivey had two goals and Abdiel Ayarza and Omar Browne also scored for Independiente, which sits second in the Panama league standings with a 2-0-1 record. On their home turf, the Panamanians' pace gave the visitors trouble all night.
It was the first competitive game of 2019 for Toronto, which has seen star striker Sebastian Giovinco and Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez depart for greener pastures (Saudi Arabia and Qatar, respectively).
Toronto is actively looking for marquee replacements.
Nick Hagglund, Jason Hernandez, Clint Irwin and Tosaint Ricketts have also moved on since last season. Toronto is looking to move Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel after a bust-up with coach Greg Vanney.
Tuesday's lack of offence showed Toronto is missing teeth up front and Vazquez's ability to unlock defences. It also featured several ugly flashbacks from 2018.
TFC, which conceded an MLS-worst 13 goals in the first 15 minutes last season, was breached nine minutes into the game. And the team that lost last year's Champion League final to Chivas Guadalajara via penalty shootout, saw new striker Terrence Boyd hammer a penalty well over the Independiente crossbar. A successful kick would have tied the game at 1-1.
The game was played on a warm evening (26 degrees Celsius) on artificial turf at the compact Estadio Agustin Sanchez (capacity 3,000). The forecast calls for snow showers and a temperature of minus-10 in the return leg.
Vanney unveiled a 4-3-3 formation with Alex Bono in goal behind a backline of Ashtone Morgan, Chris Mavinga, Laurent Ciman and Brazil's Auro. Captain Michael Bradley anchored a midfield featuring Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio.
With Jozy Altidore still returning to match fitness after ankle surgery, Boyd led the attack. He was flanked by Justin Morrow and 19-year-old Griffin Dorsey, the team's first-round draft pick in January.
The home side opened the scoring in the ninth minute. After an Independiente free kick was cleared, Ivey curled a ball into the Toronto box that landed between centre backs Siman and Mavinga. Ayarza chested it down and sent a shot past Mavinga and a rooted Bono. The goal gave Independiente confidence and the Panama side began to probe the Toronto defence with well-placed long balls in transition.
Independiente had a glorious chance in the 18th minute to add to its lead after a giveaway by Auro. A fine looping pass found Ivey alone in the penalty box but he fizzed his shot across the front of the goal prompting coach Francisco Perlo to press his hands to his head in frustration.
A Dorsey cross in the 26th minute caused problems in the Independiente penalty box. But Toronto was unable to convert.
Still TFC kept at it and was awarded a penalty in the 31st minute after defender Gerardo Negtret bundled Ciman to the ground on a Bradley free kick. El Salvador referee Ivan Barton had warned players about not holding just seconds earlier.
Boyd stepped up and misfired.
Independiente struck early in the second half. In the 48th minute, taking a quick throw from Jorman Aguilar in the Toronto end, Browne sidestepped Ciman's scything tackle attempt and hit a swerving shot from just outside the penalty box that beat Bono.
Toronto was carved open again in the 52nd minute, its defence looking sluggish and outpaced as Independiente attacked. As Bono and Mavinga converged on an onrushing Browne, he fed the ball to Ivey to knock in.
Teenagers Ayo Akinola and Jacob Sheffelburg, from Port Williams, N.S., came on minutes later for Boyd and Morgan. Sheffelburg, playing down the left flank, added a threat but Toronto lacked a cutting edge up front.
At the other end, Browne hit the crossbar on a 72nd-minute free kick. And Ivey rubbed sait into the wound, taking a long pass and beating Bono.
The Toronto bench featured three 19-year-olds in Akinola, Sheffelburg and Dante Campbell who had four MLS regular-season appearances between them (all for Akinola). Jay Chapman (62 MLS appearances), Tsubasa Endoh (25), and Liam Fraser (10) offered a little more seasoning on the bench.
The winner of the round-of-16 tie will meet either Mexico's Club Deportivo Toluca or Sporting Kansas City in the March quarterfinals. Its semifinal opponent would be the last team standing from Atlanta United versus C.S. Herediano (Costa Rica) and Mexico's Monterrey versus Alianza FC (El Salvador).
Toronto's franchise record in the competition fell to 14-10-9.
Last year, Toronto beat the Colorado Rapids and Mexico's Tigres UANL and Club America to reach the final. TFC qualified for the 2019 competition by winning the 2018 Canadian Championship.
Those were two of the highlights of a disappointing season that saw the team fall from MLS champion to 19th place in the league.
Toronto kicks off the MLS regular season March 2 at Philadelphia.
The Canadian Press