Toronto FC in Panama for first competitive test of 2019 in Champions League play
In this May 21, 2014 file photo, Toronto FC's new signing Terrence Boyd smiles as he answers questions during a training session in Stanford, Calif. Toronto FC, having journeyed 3,850 kilometres south from the ice and cold of home, will find out for itself Tuesday when it takes on Club Atletico Independiente de la Chorrera in the first leg of their round-of-16 CONCACAF Champions League series. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, February 18, 2019 4:48PM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 18, 2019 4:49PM EST
According to Lonely Planet, La Chorrera is famous throughout Panama for its chicheme -- a sweet non-alcoholic drink made from milk, mashed corn, cinnamon and vanilla.
"It's not really worth a stop, though," the travel guide concludes, however.
Toronto FC, having journeyed 3,850 kilometres south from the ice and cold of home, will find out for itself Tuesday when it takes on Club Atletico Independiente de la Chorrera in the first leg of their round-of-16 CONCACAF Champions League series.
"I've been to Panama once and it's just hostile," said new striker Terrence Boyd. "I'm not really looking forward to playing over there but then again at the same time I'm so much looking forward to the first competitive match for Toronto."
It will be a brief visit. The MLS team is staying in Panama City, the capital, and busing to La Chorrera some 30 to 40 minutes inland.
"Playing in Central America always has its challenges," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "Sometimes the opposition is just one challenge and the conditions and different things become another challenge."
"We've got to deal with the conditions but still play the way we want to play that's going to make us successful," he added.
While the artificial turf at the compact Estadio Agustin Muquita Sanchez (capacity 3,000) is one such issue, the warm weather might be welcome after Toronto's deep freeze.
The La Chorrera forecast calls for a Tuesday high of 32 Celsius -- feeling more like 37 C -- with temperatures dropping to 26 for the evening game. Compare that to Toronto where Tuesday's temperatures range from minus-12 to minus-3.
The weather will be more of factor for the return leg Feb. 26 at BMO Field.
"But we like those conditions a lot more than they will like these conditions," Vanney said.
The long-range forecast for the return leg calls for a daytime high of minus-3 and a nighttime low of -10. The Panamanians might as well be playing on the planet Neptune.
Vanney's scouting report on CAI is a team "pretty organized defensively," quick on the counter-attack and decent on set-pieces.
As in similar trips in the past, Toronto sent in head chef Elaine Flamenco and Jim Liston, director of sport science, a day early.
"For us it's a smart thing to do," said Vanney. "It was good for us last year."
A win and Toronto will meet either Mexico's Club Deportivo Toluca or Sporting Kansas City in the March quarterfinals. Its semifinal opponent would be the last team standing from Atlanta United versus C.S. Herediano (Costa Rica) and Mexico's Monterrey versus Alianza FC (El Salvador).
The knockout tournament features 16 top club teams from CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America and the Caribbean. The winner advances to the FIFA Club World Cup.
Last year, Toronto beat the Colorado Rapids and Mexico's Tigres UANL and Club America to reach the final in April when it lost via penalty shootout to Chivas Guadalajara.
TFC qualified for the 2019 competition by winning the 2018 Canadian Championship.
Those were two of the highlights of a disappointing season that saw the team fall from MLS champion to 19th place in the league.
Toronto, which has seen Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez and Gregory van der Wiel leave the fold in recent weeks, has turned the page according to its captain.
"Nobody's sitting around worried about last year anymore," Michael Bradley said.
Toronto has been running up the air miles recently, electing to fly home from its California training camp last Wednesday and then charter to Panama on Sunday in order to give players some time at home. Newcomers like Boyd used the off-day Thursday to look for a place to live.
"It is what it is ... We don't spend two seconds worrying about it," Bradley said of the logistics.
Striker Jozy Altidore, recovering from ankle surgery, is getting close to a return to action but it not expected to figure Tuesday. Boyd will likely lead the attack.
Veteran defender Drew Moor has also been dealing with a minor leg injury.
Toronto kicks off the MLS regular season March 2 at Philadelphia.