(Image courtesy of Toronto Star)
Sports are a funny thing.
So many people dedicate a large chunk of their lives to watching them with the hope that they can be part of something exceptional. Something bigger than themselves. The reality of only having one winner is that at the end of every season the majority of fans are left disappointed. And yet, you can always find them right back in front of their tv, at the bar with their friends, or at the stadium/arena watching the drama unfold right in front of them. At the end of the day they just want the chance to see their faith rewarded.
Sports are a language of their very own. Players come from all over the world and manage to communicate with their teammates and coaches despite not sharing the same language. Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco probably wouldn’t understand each other if they were talking about weather but watch the conversation shift to soccer and suddenly they’re on the same page. Bradley doesn’t have to speak Italian to let Seba know where he’s going to be, they just manage to find one another. That idea exists in every sport with athletes all over the world and it trickles right down to the fans. The city of Toronto is as diverse as they come and with that diversity you get so many different groups of people that get together and rally around their local teams. It’s why thousands of Raptors fans are willing to stand outside the Air Canada Centre watching playoff games on the big screen. They know that when they grab their jersey and head down to Jurassic Park, they’ll be amongst like minded people that care about the Raptors as much as they do. There’s something special about the shared experiences that sports are able to provide people with.
10 Years ago the Toronto sports scene was abysmal. The Leafs had just started their journey towards the basement of the NHL, the BlueJays had been stuck in a continuous cycle of mediocrity since the 1990’s, and the Raptors were just getting set to build themselves up to respectability. This city needed a hero.
Toronto FC was not it.
From the time Mo Johnston was hired to manage the club on August 22 2006, things went not even close to according to plan. It’s expected that a new club will go through growing pains until it can develop talent and start to win on any consistent basis, but Toronto FC was a laughing stock. The lack of leadership from the front office lead to poor decisions in player personnel (looking at you Torsten Frings) and a grand total of 9 people managing the club (2 of them were on an interim basis) before the start of the 2015 season. I’m sure supporters would love to forget that Jurgen Klinsmann was hired to fix the club, but that absolutely did happen. He failed. Miserably
The first glimmer of hope wouldn’t come until January 2014 when the club announced they had signed England international Jermain Defoe to go along with several other high profile signings. Apparently “All For One” meant very little to Defoe because a year later he returned to England and TFC lost their marquee signing. All the money, the promises, and the talk about winning was once again met with a large dose of reality. It would have been understandable if the fans walked away from the club to go support someone else, but sports fans are nothing if not loyal. It’s hardwired into their DNA
The real turn around came when the team signed Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore to feature in their star studded attack. The 2015 season ended in despair after a heartbreaking loss in the playoffs to Montreal Impact, but TFC had made the playoffs for the first time. Giovinco was also named MLS MVP after posting the greatest statistical season in league history. It was the first bit of success in MLS for the club and it laid the foundation for what was to come.
2016 has been what fans were waiting for all these years. There was a showcase of young players like Tsubasa Endoh, Mo Babouli, and Jordan Hamilton, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore formed a dynamic duo up front, and the back line has finally been stabilized with some key additions in centre back Drew Moor and goalkeeper Clint Irwin. It’s been a dream come true for TFC faithful.
Next week Toronto FC will become not just the first team to play in an MLS Cup, but also the first team to host one. Anything can happen in one game and Seattle might win. Who knows? All it takes is for a break to not go away and you lose. At this point there are no do-overs and no brilliant 2nd leg comebacks. But I watched tens of thousand fans cheering as loud as possible because their team is finally giving them something to cheer about. Winning the Eastern Conference is an incredible accomplishment but the players haven’t put in all this work to be satisfied with just being invited to the dance. They made it possible to feel like 2nd place just isn’t good enough. When you’ve made it this far winning is the only thing that matters. There are no consolation prizes.
Toronto sports fans have been blessed with so many great sports moments over the last two years . The kind of moments where years later you can recall where you were when it happened. The BlueJays have the bat flips, and the walk off wins, the Raptors have buzzer beaters and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and the Leafs have the lottery draft win.
But last night belongs to Toronto FC.
It was exceptional. A night 10 years in the making
Follow me on Twitter @_JaredClarkson