Toronto Sports Fans will always remember Wednesday, November 30th, 2016. Some fans may not remember the date, however, the event that night will still be remembered in Toronto sports fans' hearts. Why? They will always remember where they were when the Toronto Football Club - Toronto FC for the lay person - became the first-ever Canadian team to reach the MLS Finals.
On that rainy night, TFC were competing in their second leg at home against fellow Canadian club, the Montreal Impact. TFC were Down 3-2 on aggregate and Toronto FC wanted a highly complex 1-0 or 2-1 victory. Yet, Toronto FC and 401 Derby rivals Montreal Impact ( the name derived from Highway 401 that connects both cities) had a classic. This turned into a back and forth shootout. When the dust settled, TFC emerged the victors, winning 5-2 in extra time and 7-5 on aggregate, the fans were absolutely over the moon.
The reason why it is so big is because this team was not some powerhouse that could not get over the hump, Toronto FC for much of its life were losers. TFC were known as the franchise that could not do anything right to create a better product on the field. Granted, some of it was bad luck, however, it was still tough to see. To understand the former ineptitude of this franchise, one has to take a look at the history of TFC.
The Toronto FC was an expansion club created in 2005 by MLSE. MLSE, also known as Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment, paid $10 million for the expansion fee of the club; remember that number because we will get to that. Fans were excited about a soccer team. After all, Toronto is a very multicultural city that features many cultures who have rich soccer histories. Fans came out in droves to see the newly formed Toronto FC Reds. However, the team was obviously not very good. In 2007, Toronto FC’s first season, the team was 6-17-7.
Things would get worse before they got better. The Reds finished in last place the season after, despite hosting the MLS All-Star game. The one thing that was apparent was the team was unfortunately not very stable. Many managers and general managers came into TFC with the hopes of fixing the club, but many were chewed up and spit out. However, the club managed to find consistency in one thing and that was its fan base. The fans came out in numbers, despite their team never making the playoffs in their history before 2015.
It was an oddity to see how fans still came out to support their team. Perhaps it was the selling of hope? Perhaps it is the love of the game? One cannot deny that MLSE was blessed with loyal Toronto FC fans, who some even made their own club. This club is referred to as the Red Patch Boys, who kept Toronto FC morale with the fans high. Still, the pain of losing was too much to bear. Even Jermain Defoe and his ‘bloody big deal’ could not fix it.
Finally, the team found their franchise player in Sebastian Giovinco. The plucky little Italian international came in and fixed the club. 2015 was Giovinco’s first season with the club and he changed so much. Along with players of high pedigree like Bradley, Altidore, and many others, TFC got turned around. In 2015, Toronto FC went to the playoffs for the first time ever. Giovinco was named the MLS MVP, MLS Golden boot winner, and has the single-season record for scoring 20 goals and 15 assists in one season. Unfortunately, this success was cut short in 2015 as Toronto FC were knocked out, of the knockout stage. Didier Drogba and the Montreal Impact beat TFC 3-0.
2016 was a clearly a different story, Giovinco was still extremely productive, TFC was way better defensively and offensively there was more depth. Now TFC finally getting one over on their 401 derby rivals when it mattered most, TFC are close to achieving MLS’s greatest prize, the MLS Cup. Now TFC will host the MLS Finals against the Seattle Sounders in front of what is expected to be a ruckus crowd.
Side note: one of my favourite players from the TFC dog days, Stefan Frei is now on the Sounders.
TFC is thriving both on the field and as a business. The club expansion fee was 10 million, and according to Forbes, TFC now is worth $175 million. As impressive as this is, it speaks to the business savvy of MLSE and the growth of the MLS. Fans do not care as much about that as they do about the product on the field. For years the fans had experienced the heartache of not having a winner. For years fans had to experience the pain of coming out in numbers, just to see a bad product on the pitch. Now, the pain is over. This Saturday, win or lose, the Toronto FC can honestly say that they have turned over a new leaf.