Get used to it MLS. Get used to it.
This isn't a match report. I feel like I'd need to watch the game again without the overbearing tension and anxiety to do that properly. I'm not entirely sure what this will be, right now I'm a mixed bag of all sorts of emotion, disbelief, redemption, satisfaction, vindication, all wrapped up in a general giddiness, but I feel like I have to write something, get it out in some kind of coherent manner and make sense of it all.
Any sport should be about emotion. It shouldn't be about picking the best team out there, sitting back and appreciating them. There should be some kind of connection there. Hopefully that connection leads to good things, hey if you're from Barcelona, and they're your local team, then watching them these last few years must have been great fun, good for you, you deserve it
That's not really been my experience though. My local teams have generally been crap, Darlington back in England, and for the first few years Toronto FC have certainly lived up to that, let's not mention Canada. There's a certain smug satisfaction you get from not being a gloryhunter, and instead being involved with something real and local, but generally it's a tough slog. It led me to name my first blog Cruel Geography, with the tagline "when supporting the local team means a lifetime of rarely alleviated misery and struggle". that should give you an idea of how my football supporting life has been
This was that moment of rare alleviation. After so many disappointments, heartbreaking defeats and outright terrible games, with all the off pitch dysfunction you can shake a stick at added in, this was a sweet reward.
Of course, it wasn't just a random out of the blue moment, we're long past the turning point, but this was a hell of a milestone. 2011 was more or less a write off, a true rebuilding year, with the main rebuild happening right in the middle of the season. There was an obvious improvement towards the end of that season, and then the result in Dallas gave a tangible achievement to the process. Something to hang on to through the winter, and make it a lot easier for Winter and co to keep going on the same course.
All the previous years of revolving doors and wheel spinning couldn't easily be forgotten though, so most MLS experts looked upon it all as just more of the same, easily dismissed and not worth much respect. Whether it was Alexi Lalas and co chuckling it up at TFC's expense at the SuperDraft, MLS season predictions with TFC once again well down the field, or comments from the likes of Taylor Twellman up to and throughout this game, very few people seemed to think much of TFC's chances. This was after all the LA Galaxy! and Bruce Arena! And yet here we are, last MLS team standing, even if for this tournament we're not really an MLS team.
My immediate post game tweet was 'hey MLS! time to start taking TFC seriously' and it's something I'd thought and been carrying around in my head for months for if we did actually get the result. There were 'screw you's aimed at a lot of people in my head on behalf of TFC, as I headed to bed, feeling all redeemed and vindicated.
By this morning that had melted into a more relaxed satisfaction, combined with a giddiness that i still feel. Did that really happen? Was that really TFC? Last week's TFC, the one that started brightly, but whose confidence visibly wilted after the Galaxy scored their first, and let in yet another late set piece goal, I could recognise that TFC. But this one? Who rode their luck, some good saves and finishing that was a lot more clinical than the Galaxy's vaunted strikers to a lead, then calmly and more or less comfortably held on to it as the pressure increased? Who were they?
We got glimpses of them in the first leg, and I came away frustrated that they slipped back to old TFC habits and let the lead slip. It wasn't that it was a bad performance, but that they could have done so much better, but just didn't quite seem to believe it. This time though, they kept going, defensively resolute, clinical when they got the chance, it was a remarkably composed performance.
Yeah, yeah, it's not going to be all sunshine and lollipops from here, there'll be steps back, falling into old habits, frustrations and plenty of defeats, last night's performance was far from perfect, but there's plenty of time and other posts for that sort of thing. But now we've seen what they can do, and just what type of team they are. A punchline no more, Concacaf Semi-finalists, conquerors of L.A, last MLS team standing. This is your TFC, and yes, they are for real. This just might start getting fun.