Paying the penalty, costing them the ultimate prize. The summary of a magical 2016 season for Toronto FC which ended in misery on a cold night at BMO Field as they lost on spot kicks to a Seattle Sounders team who essentially parked the bus for 120 minutes, only to steer themselves to the MLS title.
A crushing – some would say undeserved – end to a playoff run that saw them skate through the Eastern Conference playoffs like a winter night at Nathan Phillips Square. Reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and Jamaican international, Andre Blake, was helpless as TFC pushed three past him in the wildcard playoffs. Despite possessing stellar, albeit aging, legends in former European stars, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa (while coached by Invincible, Patrick Vieira), New York City FC were taken to hell and back as the Reds reached seventh heaven with a 7-0 battering of them in the semi-finals. Then overcoming hated rivals, Montreal Impact, thanks to a phenomenal second leg turnaround where Jozy Altidore stole the show.
That made the loss in the final, at the hands of ex-keeper Stefan Frei no less, even more painful and for a club looking to put Canada at the top of the MLS ladder for the first time ever. Instead of the expected letdown from such a stinging defeat, however, TFC have created more buzz than ever before and how. Their 3-1 win on Sunday against the aforementioned Impact in Montreal took the club to a league leading 56 points (16 wins, eight draws, three losses) in 28 matches after starting the season with just one win in their first six games. They have nine more points than anyone else, and has them 12 points shy of matching the LA Galaxy’s all-time record for points in a MLS season (68). With seven games to spare, it seems a sure bet that they’ll equal or break that mark.
If you told fans this club would be nearing a league record point tally and be the favourites to win the MLS Cup three years ago, they’d probably had laughed at you. After all, Toronto FC, now in its 11th season of existence, failed to make the playoffs in its first eight years in the league. This included miserable runs under former Dutch international, Aron Winter, ex-Arsenal and Ipswich forward turned ESPN FC pundit, Paul Mariner – both recommended by Jürgen Klinsmann, the club’s technical consultant at the time – who all failed to win 30% of their games during their respective stints in charge. Additionally, this included below par showings by marquee names the club brought in over the years, from Julio Cesar’s shaky form in net, to an injured Torsten Frings to the ‘Bloody Big Deal’ Jermain Defoe who scored his share of goals, but caught flack from fans who regularly accused him of being more interested in the city’s nightlife than playing.