Jordan Hamilton, Jay Chapman, Ashtone Morgan, Jonathan Osorio - Toronto FC - dejected after CCL final
Henry Romero-Reuters

Wiebe: Yet again, free space is disappointment in Concacaf Champions League

Free space is disappointment*, and nothing is more frustrating, more humbling, more predictably soul-crushing for Major League Soccer than the Concacaf Champions League.

*CCL Bingo isn’t back for 2019, but its catchphrase lives on. Think about it this way, what’s the one constant for MLS teams in this competition? Falling short, often in the most painful way possible. Thus, the free space is disappointment.

If you thought this was the year MLS was finally poised to turn the continental corner en masse and break up Liga MX hegemony, Toronto FC’s CCL opener in Panama was a reminder that any and all hubris is premature and will be promptly punished.

For the time being, forget about winning the whole thing. Forget the Club World Cup. Forget about Liga MX (not you, Sporting Kansas City). The Mexican clubs still loom for those that prove worthy of the challenge, but you’ve got to walk before you can run in Concacaf. It won’t come easy, no matter what happened the year before.

Take Toronto. The club are in the midst of a somewhat inauspicious offseason, selling both Victor Vazquez and Sebastian Giovinco, but surely they’d have enough talent and know-how to go to Central America and get a result against Independiente La Chorrera, right? After all, this is the team that knocked off Tigres and Club America then took Chivas to the brink just a year ago.

Spoiler: They didn’t have enough talent or know-how. Not even close, actually.

The Panamanian first-timers wasted no time dropping four unanswered goals on last year’s tournament runners-up. Two years ago, Toronto were the best team in league history. Now, they’re 90 minutes from getting the boot, and it could have been worse. It probably should have been. It was that lopsided. By the Armchair Analyst's reckoning, this result tied the record for all-time worst MLS defeat to a non-Liga MX team in CCL history, equaling New England's humiliating 4-0 loss to Trinidad & Tobago's Joe Public in 2008.

 The series, barring something incredible at BMO Field, is over.

It was the worst and best possible way to start the competition.

Worst because the result truly was a verguenza for Toronto. The preseason excuses don’t fly. Just ask Anthony Hudson and the Rapids. Most of us wrote off the 5-1 loss to the Las Vegas Lights as a February fluke, but maybe it wasn’t. This team couldn’t keep the ball out of the back of the net in 2018, and there’s little reason to think that’ll change based on Tuesday night and the offseason’s ins and outs.

They’re not exactly bursting with attacking ideas, either. Jozy Altidore will be back – when exactly, we’re not certain – but who else is a true difference maker? Jonathan Osorio can be, but there’s a reason Toronto, per reports, don’t want to wait until the summer to sign Alejandro Pozuelo. They need him now. They needed him yesterday.

In Panama, rookie Griffin Dorsey and outside back Justin Morrow started on the wings. New striker Terrence Boyd battled hard but put his penalty kick into orbit. Nobody created chances. Nobody did much of anything that caught Independiente off guard. Maybe Giovinco was papering over the attacking cracks even more than we thought.

It’s time to hit the market and get a couple of those DP and TAM deals over the line, even if it might already be too late, which brings us to the glass-half full take.

TFC’s meltdown was the best thing that could have happened – here comes the spin zone – because now there are no excuses for the four other clubs chasing history. For all of MLS’s progress, nothing can replace getting the job done by any means necessary, starting with an inevitably overlooked opponent in the Round of 16.

The Dynamo were paying attention. They went pragmatic in Guatemala against Guatastoya.

Houston didn’t open themselves up, got away with a mistake or two and then they waited. They were still waiting in the 84th minute, and that’s when DaMarcus Beasley popped up with a right-footed lash from the top of the box that delivered an all-important away goal ahead of next week’s second leg at BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston had a better feel for the game and the stakes.

Now, Wilmer Cabrera can take care of business at home, in mundane fashion if that’s what it takes. Park the bus and hit on the counter. Just get it done. Thanks to Saprissa’s 1-0 win at home against Tigres, the Dynamo might even avoid the Liga MX juggernaut and Andre-Pierre Gignac should they get through to the quarterfinals.

Or they might not. Free space is disappointment, after all. Something the New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC and Atlanta United should remember as well.

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