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Toronto FC are leading the way into a new era of Canadian soccer

It’s a great time to be a football fan north of the border.

Jonathan Osorio celebrates with Toronto FC fans.
Luke Galati

Where do you start with a game like that?

To label it a game does not begin to tell the full story; Wednesday night was an event, a landmark moment both for Toronto FC and the wider Canadian soccer landscape.

The Reds are MLS Cup finalists and the talk of the city. The crowd of 35,000 was the highest ever for a Toronto game at BMO Field. The TV ratings, at an average of 1.4 million viewers, were the highest ever for an MLS game in Canada. Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was in attendance and Kyle Lowry donned a TFC hat for his interviews after the Raptors’ game. Few people caught up in an MLS classic would have been able to tell you their score against Memphis or the Maple Leafs’ in Calgary, but anyone who had switched on a sports channel had at least some idea of the drama at the waterfront.

Luke Galati-Waking the Red

“It’s so special and you can feel it,” Drew Moor said. “I live downtown and I walk out my door and I can feel it. You turn on the TV, you open social media... the sports teams mean a lot to this city and the fans have been incredible. I haven’t been here long but I want to win it just as much for the city of Toronto, and the people, and the fans as I do for my team and for myself.”

That team is beginning to show it is something special itself. Toronto will host the season finale against the Seattle Sounders as slight favourites. They have scored 17 goals in five playoff games and boast the most dangerous strike partnership in recent MLS history. They have now put five past two opponents in a row (with the help of a 30-minute period of extra time against Montreal). Strip away everything else and just the on-pitch product has been 10 years in the making.

But the “everything else” has been an even longer time coming, and this tie - and, let’s be clear, Montreal played a terrific part in it - could hardly have come at a better time for the national game.

Luke Galati

Almost lost in the madness of what followed was MLS’ announcement before kick-off that they would finally cede some ground to Canada Soccer on the issue of Canadians’ status within the league. As of 2017, any Canadian player from an MLS academy or approved youth club, or who signed his first professional contract with an MLS club or its USL affiliate, will be considered a domestic player throughout the league, not only - as is currently the case - north of the border.

It’s not the full equality many were hoping for, but it will create more jobs for Canadian players and help in the continuing effort to build a realistic pathway to the pro game that did not exist for the likes of Tosaint Ricketts, who embarked on a seven-year tour of Europe before returning home at age 29.

On that front, nothing will be bigger than the inauguration of the Canadian Premier League, which is expected to be fully ratified next week. With a 2018 kick-off targeted there and a new men’s national team coach expected in the coming months to be tasked with building a team around young talent such as Cyle Larin and Jonathan Osorio, this spellbinding run of Toronto FC’s feels like it could be just the beginning.

Luke Galati

This beginning, however, will also have an ending. No Toronto FC fan will forget this team, this season, regardless of the result against Seattle but if Michael Bradley lifts the MLS Cup in front of a home crowd on December 10... again, where do you start?

“When we play and now we get into the playoffs and people start to sense what’s going on here, again it’s special and so I think when it’s your turn like it is ours at the moment, every single guy, we’re very cognizant of the responsibility that we have to take full advantage,” Bradley said.

“When the lights come and everyone is watching you, these are the moments when you get a chance to really move the needle and I think we’ve done that. We’ve got one more game that can probably move the needle more than any game so far.”