It was one of those Central American nights where little goes to plan.
The hosts took the lead after nine minutes and TFC sent their chance at an equalizer sailing over the bar from the penalty spot midway through the first half. Independiente then hit for two early in the second frame before finding a fourth in the closing stages.
“On all levels we were out-competed,” said Greg Vanney post-match. “We lost too many balls between lines, which set up for their game plan. We were exposed. In the second half I don't know if we ever found our defensive shape to slow things down.
“I don't think our group anticipated the game going this way, started to chase it, and chasing a team that is good in the counterattack is a dangerous game. We ended up there far too many times on the day,” continued Vanney. “Everything was too slow. We had a couple of opportunities – balls that fell in the box, a PK – situations that we didn't take advantage of. We dug ourselves a real hole.”
Matching the intensity of a knockout competition straight out of preseason is always a challenge. Toronto knew that beforehand.
“It's a big step up from preseason: the intensity of the game, what the opponent puts into it,” said Michael Bradley. “Everything that you know coming in: conditions aren't easy, an opponent that is going to look to play on the counter and do that in a very aggressive way.
“We weren't up for any part of it,” he said. “That part is very disappointing.”
Vanney refused to give ground to the idea that his side overlooked the opponent.
“I don't think it had anything to do with being overconfident,” said Vanney. “Coming out of preseason [guys] weren't quite ready for tempo, especially on the counter. Our tempo, the ball just wasn't moving fast enough. Sharpness, attentiveness, team shape, the things that are important to keep a team like that under control.
“We played into their hands. They made us pay.”
Said Bradley: “On a night like tonight it wouldn't be fair or right for anyone to make excuses. Not good enough. Now we have 90 more minutes to go at it in a strong way back at our place. We've got to make sure, in all ways, we use this and move ourselves forward.”
Asked what he expected for the second leg, Vanney was quick to reply: “A better performance than today.”
Toronto now have less than a week to prepare for the second leg at BMO Field on February 26.
“There are a lot of things to take away from a game like this. You can't help but look at it,” he said. “We did a lot of things poorly today, made a lot of poor decisions. We didn't compete at the level that we need to compete at.”
“We have to turn it around quickly,” urged Vanney. “The intensity the opposition brought was a bit of a wake-up call. We've got to find a different competitive level, a different sharpness. And we've got to do that fast.”