Michael Bradley, Jordan Hamilton - Toronto FC - in CCL action
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto FC rue "huge hole" dug in Panama as Champions League run ends early

TORONTO – And just like that, the Champions League is over.

Before they could even get their feet under them, Toronto FC – a team that reached the final of the competition last season, defeated on penalty kicks – is out of the 2019 Concacaf Champions League at the first hurdle, losing 5-1 on aggregate to Panamanian debutants Club Atletico Independiente de la Chorrera.

Toronto took the lead in the 19th minute on Tuesday night at BMO Field through Jordan Hamilton, giving some hope that an epic comeback from their 4-0 first-leg deficit was on. But despite waves of pressure and tons of possession, the second goal failed to materialize.

Independiente then sealed the tie in the 67th minute when Omar Browne netted the 1-1 equalizer, a precious away goal, on a quick break after Laurent Ciman misjudged a header to seal TFC's fate.

“In the end, we didn't execute or get the goals that we needed,” said TFC coach Greg Vanney post-match. “We make a mistake on a flighted ball in the air and it's a done deal at that point. Ultimately, we put ourselves in a huge hole down there.” 

That was the consensus: The poor showing in the first leg proved their downfall.

“We weren't good enough in the first leg, put ourselves in a big hole,” summed up Nick DeLeon, who made his debut for TFC having missed the match in Panama with back spasms. “We felt like the mentality was definitely right in this game, it was just a little bit of quality lacking in the final third.”

Tuesday was markedly better, but it was not enough to overcome the disaster last week.

“We went out there in a good way, got to 1-0, had a few big chances for 2-0,” said Michael Bradley. “On another night, if you can get that second goal it makes things really interesting. We couldn't quite make that play tonight: a little bit of sharpness, a little bit of luck, the 'keeper made a few good saves.”

The first two matches of Toronto's 2019 campaign were defined by a lack of sharpness in both final thirds: defensive frailties at one end and finishing woes at the other. Whether that will carry into the MLS season, or was specific to the circumstances against Independiente, remains to be seen.

“In these two games we had a ton of the ball, a lot of possession, we've had to defend in transition,” explained Vanney. “As a group, we haven't managed some of those well, especially down there. Tonight we did a decent job.” 

The overall message from the coach: “This tournament is behind us. We focus on our season.”

Added Bradley in summation: “We're disappointed, but the response was very good. And now we look forward, get ready for Philadelphia and a big year.”