Toronto FC has experienced unprecedented success over the past year, clearing every hurdle while assuming a place among the best teams in MLS history. On Wednesday, though, they experienced heartbreak, and that feeling is going to linger for quite some time.
After erasing a 2-1 deficit from the opening leg to force penalty kicks, TFC fell just short in Wednesday’s Concacaf Champions League finale against Chivas de Guadalajara. It was a match, and a series, littered with missed opportunities and missed chances and, ultimately, those small moments cost TFC a chance at immortality.
What stings the most, though, is just how close it was. After taking down two teams that are, on paper, far superior, TFC fell short against a Chivas side that appeared very beatable. It was a moment designed for TFC to shine and, in the end, they faltered.
“A big game with two good teams going at it,” said captain Michael Bradley. “We knew coming into tonight that we had to be aggressive, go after them and win the game. I couldn’t be more proud of our players. We had a team full of warriors tonight that spilled their guts in the biggest possible moment.
“In the end, things didn’t go our way, and that certainly hurts, but when you compete at the highest level, you understand that’s part of the deal sometimes… It’s how it goes. That’s just how it goes.”
You could argue that TFC’s biggest mistakes didn’t come in Wednesday’s decider, but in last week’s opening leg. The reigning MLS Cup champions conceded a pair of mistake-filled goals on home turf, giving Chivas a massive advantage heading into Wednesday’s finale.
That advantage lasted all of one half, despite an early Chivas goal, as TFC stormed back before halftime to level the score at three apiece. The second half was largely tilted Chivas’ way, but TFC still had their chance.
Over the game’s final few moments, TFC created a few close calls, but none were better than Marky Delgado’s late opportunity. Sebastian Giovinco put the ball on a platter, and Delgado just got under it and skied TFC’s best chance at a title.
In penalty kicks, Bradley and Jonathan Osorio, two of the tournament’s best players, missed from the spot, ending TFC’s chances.
“It’s disappointing,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono. “There was a big opportunity for us to win it in normal time. We don’t blame losses on individual players. We take losses as a team. We come together as a group and rally as a group.
It’s unfortunate for us that we don’t get another shot at this until, hopefully, next season, but I’m proud of the run we made. I’m really proud of the group the way we performed today. We’re all just really disappointed right now.”
TFC will now have to wait a whole year for another chance at becoming the first champion from MLS, although even that is far from certain. They’ll still need to take care of business in the Canadian Championship and earn their way back to another opportunity (CONCACAF rules stipulate that TFC’s only route to the Champions League is via winning the Canadian Championship).
In addition, the team currently finds itself in a bit of a hole in MLS play as the club prioritized CCL action. As things stand, the team is dead last in the East, 14 points behind leaders NYCFC.
TFC will have a full year to prepare for another run at a title that seemed so close, but ended with a painful defeat, one that they don’t want to define them going forward.
“We played all 90 minutes. We put it all on he line, gave it everything we had to try and get a result and bring a trophy back to Toronto. Today, it just didn’t go our way,” Bono said. “That’s unfortunate for us. We have a full season of MLS and we’re going to try and put in performances there to try and repeat what we did last season in MLS.
“The disappointment of losing a big final has to continue to push us on and make sure we continue to improve,” added Bradley. “We’re not going to let this stop us. We’re going to continue to work, continue to make sure we play in more finals and win more trophies.”