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Concacaf Champions League provides concerning prologue for 2019 season

The club has a lot of work to do to get back in form

Tagwa Moyo/Waking the Red

Last year, the Concacaf Champions League was the highlight of Toronto FC’s season. This year, they will be hoping their short campaign is just a footnote.

A 5-1 aggregate loss to Panamanian side Independiente meant a quick end to the club’s 2019 tournament, with last night’s 1-1 draw coming nowhere close to repairing the damage done in a 4-0 first leg loss. It was better, to be sure, but not nearly enough.

It all leaves a Toronto FC side who already had more questions than answers with even more heading into Saturday’s regular season opener against the Philadelphia Union. The biggest concern, perhaps is that those questions now come at both ends of the field.

Looking at the raw numbers, Toronto FC’s downfall was easy to pinpoint in 2018: they conceded far too often, a club record 64 times. Offensively, however, they were still among the best in the league both in terms of goals and expected goals.

However, with Sebastian Giovinco, Lucas Janson and Victor Vazquez out the door, one of the burning questions out of the gate is where goals will come from this season. Evidently, Jozy Altidore was a big miss for both of these legs, and it appears as though Alejandro Pozuelo will be joining the team shortly.

All that will help, but it is not the full answer. After a reasonably bright first half, the club quickly ran out of ideas offensively in the second half, and didn’t seem to have any fresh ideas off the bench either.

Overall, they managed 28 shots, 10 of which were on target. Below is the shot chart, which shows the absolute siege under which TFC put goalkeeper José Guerra, who was excellent by the way. But after just one goal over two matches against a side that appears to be, although this might be unfair, inferior defensively to your average MLS side.

There were a couple of bright spots. In his debut, Nick DeLeon looks like he is going to be a great fit out wide for the club, especially once he starts to connect better with teammates. Marky Delgado, meanwhile was excellent pulling the strings in the midfield. He had five key passes, not including the line-splitting pass he made to create Toronto’s goal.

That goal was expertly finished by Jordan Hamilton, who was Toronto’s main threat on the night. He had five shots on target, and looks to have an early edge on the role as backwards striker. However, he was also the only player who looked likely to score on the day.

The heavy field, which captain Michael Bradley said was embarrassing, certainly didn’t help matters. The ball got caught up on several occasions and definitely helped an Independiente side content to sit back and soak up pressure, already four goals ahead on aggregate.

However, while it may have hurt the team offensively, it probably helped them on the other end of the pitch. Independiente were not able to get the ball up the pitch with any speed, although they were still able to capitalize on another big concern: the defensive error.

Therein lies an even bigger issue. While this pair of games asked new questions about the clubs attack, they did little to answer questions about the club’s biggest issue: the backline. This was the second game where the man brought in to help the club stop leaking goals, Laurent Ciman, made a clear defensive error.

Again, the club was missing Drew Moor from the starting lineup, who clearly can’t return soon enough. But relying this much on an individual, if Moor can even recapture his recent form, will only spell even more problems in the future.

The one thing Toronto FC does have on its side is time. Now without having to worry about the Concacaf Champions League, they can put all their focus on trying to grab one of the now seven spots in the MLS Cup playoffs. It’s a task that on paper isn’t overtly tall.

But the early returns have not been promising, and it is becoming increasingly hard to sell patience to a fan base that expects a much higher standard of soccer than it has seen so far. If nothing else, this year’s Champions League proved Toronto FC have a lot of work to do to get back to where they were even a year ago.