TORONTO – There were always three certainties in life: Death, taxes and Toronto FC missing the playoffs.
The latter changed last year after TFC qualified for the postseason for the first time in franchise history. However, the euphoria was short-lived after the Montreal Impact crushed the Reds, 3-0, in the knockout round. Once again, Toronto was left wanting more.
More than one year later, TFC became the first Canadian club to reach the MLS Cup final. Toronto avenged its playoff elimination in 2015 by defeating the Impact in the Eastern Conference final.
From the Mo Johnston era to the Massacre at the Meadowlands in 2009, there is a long list of failures that have haunted TFC in the past. Now that same club will be hosting and playing in an MLS Cup final.
“I think nights like this are what I was hoping for when I visited here almost a year ago,” said TFC defender Drew Moor. “It was a long season, and I know their history well. I couldn’t be more proud of what we’re doing this season. We’ll enjoy this tonight but we have bigger things to accomplish as well.”
Moor was one of the key acquisitions in the offseason along with goalkeeper Clint Irwin. Both players were responsible for TFC’s most notable improvement from 2015 compared to this year. Toronto only conceded 39 goals in the regular season, the lowest among teams in the Eastern Conference. Last year, the team allowed a whopping 58 goals.
The defensive stability is a major reason why TFC finished third in the conference as opposed to sixth in 2015. It led to Toronto clinching home field advantage for the knockout round and conference final.
The intensity in Wednesday’s conference final was on full display. The stakes and the rivalry between TFC and the Impact contributed to a wild night at BMO Field, but Toronto’s underachievement in the past also contributed to the players’ efforts.
“I think you see that on a night like tonight,” said TFC captain Michael Bradley. “Every person who came into this stadium, all 37,000 of them, came because this club, this city has never seen a soccer game of this importance before. So we use every bit of that to our advantage.”
As the full-time whistle blew, the TFC players saluted the supporters on the south end of the stadium and soaked in the euphoria. Whether it was a midseason acquisition like Armando Cooper or a local boy such as Jonathan Osorio, every member of the squad were rewarded for their commitment to the club.
“Every single guy who is at this club has chosen to be at this club and we’ve chosen to be here for a reason,” said Bradley. “We look around and we see unbelievable potential in terms of a city, a market, a fan base, a stadium, a training ground. Every box gets checked.
“You look at other clubs around the league and there are other clubs that check a lot of boxes. I’m not sure if there’s another club that checks every box. This club checks every box.”
The 2016 MLS Cup final will be unique in many ways. This is the first final without an original MLS franchise, plus one of TFC or the Seattle Sounders will win their first championship. No matter who hoists the cup on Dec. 10, Bradley is realistic about Toronto’s future.
“Look, we’ll lose more games along the way,” Bradley admitted. “It’s not to say that we’ve turned a corner and there’s never going to be any moments where things don’t go our way, but again, just this idea that every guy who is here is desperate to be a part of building this into what it should be: Something different, something special, and you do it on nights like this.”
Both sides have nine days to prepare for the most important match in their respective histories. For Toronto FC, it has a chance to reward their long-suffering fan base after nine years of disappointment.