A trip to Panama will see the Reds face Club Atlético Independiente in the first leg of the Round of 16 on Tuesday night. This will be the first competitive game of the 2019 season, although Toronto have already featured in numerous off-season friendlies during their training camp in California.
On the other hand, Panama’s representatives have already played four league games, winning three of them. Although this will be Independiente’s debut in this competition, it will be far from a comfortable test for an under-strength TFC side.
Waking the Red takes a closer look at TFC’s first opponents of this year’s continental competition...
Independiente, known also as CAI, opened their title defence on February 2, when they defeated San Francisco thanks to a Joseph Rosales’ goal from a left-footed free-kick — set-pieces are one of the team’s main threats.
Goals from Jorman Aguilar and Omar Browne handed CAI a 2-1 win over Plaza Amador on Matchday 2. While both CAI’s goals came from well-engineered moves, their defensive frailties were exposed in the goal they conceded, as a lack of communication created a confusion between the goalkeeper and the defenders inside the box.
The only team to have managed to halt their winning run was Arabe Unido, who ground out a 3-3 draw in the third game of the season. Through these highlights, one may have the impression that the midfield struggles to man-mark players while they suffer negative transitions in open play — nonetheless, given the lack of highlights of CAI, it would not be fair to give a proper judgement on their defensive positioning and traits.
Independiente’s third win in four games came over Alianza Lima, a 2-0 win that propelled the Panamanian side to joint-top with Sporting San Miguelito with 10 points in four games.
Together with San Miguelito, Independiente are the highest-scoring team of the league with eight goals, while conceding four — one fewer than San Miguelito.
They will be making their first-ever CCL appearance after claiming their maiden Panamian championship, therefore it goes without saying that this is the first meeting between TFC and CAI.
Based in La Chorrera, Independiente play their home games in the small 4,000-seat Estadio Agustín Sánchez, although it is known that supporters from the Central American region can be quite noisy.
The team’s best scorers so far are the aforementioned Aguilar and Omar Browne. Both players have found the net twice, with Browne scoring one of them from the penalty spot as well.
Despite his age, just 24, Aguilar has already played overseas including three European experiences. In fact, the forward played one game at Slovenia’s Gorica and was on the books for Istra of Croatia before moving to Portugal, where he appeared 48 times (scoring 12 goals in the process) for Olhanense and a further 15 times for Estoril, without finding the net once.
Meanwhile, Browne, scorer of 13 goals in 45 games for CAI, has always graced the fields of his native Panama — experiences at Plaza Amador, San Miguelito and Chorillo saw him collect just four goals in 39 games before finding the net on a more regular basis at Independiente.
Undoubtedly, their most experienced player is skipper Manuel Torres, who is 40 years old! Torres boasts decent CCL experience, having played 13 games in the competition during his spells at Panama’s San Francisco FC.
He also represented Panama internationally 35 times, winning the 2009 Central American Cup and playing in a couple of Gold Cups (in 2007 and 2009).
CAI are coached by Francisco Perlo. Born in Venezuela, Perlo managed Costa del Este and Leones de America, both of Panama, before being appointed CAI coach prior this season.