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Toronto FC tried hard to mount an unlikely comeback in its CONCACAF Champions League series against Club Atletico Independiente but the only thing colder than its forwards were the frigid temperatures at BMO Field.

Panama’s Club Atletico barely touched the ball Tuesday night in front of several thousand hardy (maybe foolhardy) fans, but it didn’t matter. Not only did they carry a huge 4-0 advantage into the final match of the two-leg opening-round series, they also had goalkeeper Jose Guerra.

Guerra held off the TFC offence in a 90-minute tightrope walk for the Panamanian side, which managed a 1-1 tie and eliminated TFC on aggregate 5-1. A goal by Club Atletico’s Omar Browne in the 67th minute effectively ended TFC’s hopes. Jordan Hamilton scored for TFC in the first half.

The Panamanian side’s upset win made one thing clear about the rebuilding TFC crew, which saw superstar Sebastian Giovinco leave the team earlier this month along with star midfielder Victor Vazquez and was missing its other star striker, Jozy Altidore (ankle injury). No Giovinco, no Altidore, no Vazquez, no finish when it comes to scoring.

Aside from the big lead TFC handed Club Atletico in the first leg, the Reds also had to deal with a pitch covered in sand at BMO Field as well as the numbing cold. Temperatures hit -9 C by halftime and kept dropping.

“It was probably the coldest game I’ve played in my life, and I’ve grown up playing here,” said Hamilton, 22, a Toronto native. “At halftime, I took out on my long tights and tried to buckle down and get the next three goals. Unfortunately it didn’t work out.”

The upset win by the Panamanian side was hard for TFC to swallow. Last year, the Reds came within a penalty kick of being the first Major League Soccer team to win the CONCACAF Champions League title. Now they are out in the first round.

However, they were quick to note chasing last year’s Champions League crown came at a heavy cost to the team in the MLS season. The Reds could not shake the injuries and fatigue that built up in the Champions League tournament and failed to make the MLS playoffs after winning the 2017 MLS Cup.

A report from Canadian Press said Altidore and TFC agreed to a new long-term contract on Tuesday, which means the team will at least have some scoring power this season. But a Champions League loss to an unheralded opponent still does not bode well for the MLS season, which begins Saturday for TFC with a visit to the Philadelphia Union.

“I‘m happy with our commitment to the game,” Reds head coach Greg Vanney said. But he had to admit, “in the end we didn’t execute, get the goals we needed. In terms of the series itself, ultimately we put ourselves in a huge hole down there. That was the big problem.

“This wasn’t something we wanted to happen but it’s where we are and now we focus our attention on the season. Our schedule is much more open now for the next two months. Hopefully in that time period we can get some guys healthy and probably have a couple of additions along the way.”

TFC controlled the ball for almost the entire first half and created lots of scoring chances. However, the Reds no longer have the scoring touch of old and the best they could manage was a 1-0 lead after 45 minutes.

Going into the game the biggest factor was expected to be the weather. Naturally the assumption was the cold would have a far greater effect on the Club Atletico players, who normally practice their trade in the far more civilized temperatures of Panama.

“It’s cold for us but for them even worse,” said TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio, a native of nearby Brampton. “It’s not an excuse or whatever for us.

“The conditions are what they are. We’re prepared for that and just focused on turning this around.”

But at -9 C, the cold weather gave even the North American players on TFC pause. Then the pitch turned out to be an equal hindrance on the Reds’ attack.

The grounds crew are trying to keep the grass protected for a scheduled transformation to what Vanney called a “hybrid” field in April. There was a great deal of sand on the field to protect the grass roots and Vanney said this had a major effect on the TFC offence.

“The only way anyone was scoring goals [Tuesday night] was in the air,” Vanney said. “There wasn’t anything that was going to be scored on the ground unless you made a big mistake. Anything that was going to be passing or relatively intricate or fast wasn’t going to happen. Not on the field [Tuesday night].”

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