The past 9 years have not been easy. Anyone who’s followed the team is well aware of our status and reputation. This city has been a running joke for ninety-percent of a decade; the perpetual league doormat. As the saying goes, “the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes.” In MLS, there are just as few things we have always known for certain, one of which is the fact that Toronto has dominated the lowest ranks of Eastern Conference, below the thin red-line in the official standings that separates success from failure.
That is, until the night of Wednesday October 14, 2015.
On the back of a Sebastian Giovinco Goal of the Year Candidate strike giving TFC a 2-1 victory over the Red Bulls, the Atomic Ant, the newly canonized patron saint of Toronto’s soccer community, forced the Reds into uncharted territory: the 2015 MLS Playoffs.
For those of you who might be saying to yourself, “this guy has lost it”, I can confirm that I most certainly have. But I’m not alone.
Playoffs, to every other team in this league barring NYCFC and Orlando, have become common place; the bare minimum. To teams like Seattle and LA and SKC, this is nothing but a formality.
But this is Toronto.
In sporting terms, TFC fans have suffered more than our fair share of embarrassment and failure.
We’ve sat through the freezing cold, through the scorching heat, and of course, the torrential downpours. We’ve seen turf change to grass. We’ve seen someone else win an MLS cup and a hated rival win the Voyageurs Cup in our house. We’ve seen executives, general managers, coaches, and countless players come and go. We’ve seen 3 year plans, 5 year plans, Dutch experiments, resets, and Bloody Big Deals. We’ve seen our stadium’s capacity expand from 20,000 to 22,000 to 30,000 while crowds contracted, and our ticket prices roughly double only to be cut almost in half. We’ve seen multi-game goal-less and winless droughts continue and emphatically end. We’ve seen countless first minute goals against and last minute collapses. We’ve had no choice but to laugh at the failures and pain and frustration in order to hold back the tears. But in the process, it’s made us stronger.
We’re now more than just a collective group of people that shows up at game time then go our separate ways at the final whistle. We’ve become friends, and it has never been more apparent than after the final whistle on Wednesday night.
The jumping, the singing, the dancing, the hugging, the kissing, the smiling, the laughter and dare I say, the tears. Ecstasy. Euphoria. Jubilation. Relief.
This is no exaggeration. This is an eye-witness account from someone who’s been in the trenches and battled through the seemingly endless cycle of depression and anguish, only to see it all collectively released to the tune of Etta James’ “At Last” played over the loud speakers to a sob inducing montage of our historic meltdowns and greatest successes played in front of us on the big screen. The joy on the faces of players and fans alike as the celebrations of ending the near decade long curse hanging over our beloved second home was contagious. Wednesday night was for us, the fans. We deserve it. And for it to unfold against the Red Bulls was poetic.
In our pain, we declared that we never wanted to be the greatest; we just wanted to be part of the in-crowd; we just wanted to be competitive. “Ask, and ye shall receive”…about the competitive part…we’re ready to be great now.
Tim Leiweke boldly asked the question, “Why can’t we be great?” With boat loads of cash and a tiny Italian saviour, it’s now possible. The team has learned what not to do and what it takes to move up to the next level. With the playoffs around the corner and a home playoff date within our grasp, greatness is more possible than ever, and most importantly, it’s the players who know this.
I’ve waited 9 years to use a headline like the one used for this, and how sweet it is. At long last, Toronto FC is in the playoffs.
(Image Courtesy of www.dailymail.co.uk)