It's 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and I haven't slept all night. I've been laying awake, in bed, thinking about the match. This is, after all, the start of a new season and one where we, the fans, actually believe that Toronto FC can achieve something. The first match of the season is always filled with optimism and excitement. However, this game is a little bit different, in the sense that our beloved Reds would be playing the defending Supporter's Shield holders, New York Red Bulls, at their place. Red Bull Arena is a fine stadium, a true football ground in North America. The team is also finely built.
My buddy and I had discussed beforehand that we would watch the match at Shoeless Joe's in Liberty Village. Of course, this particular Shoeless Joe's is home to the Red Patch Boys, one of Toronto FC's largest supporter's groups and one I happen to be a part of. This is my second year of officially being part of the supporters group, though I have hung around Shoeless Joe's since the inaugural season. All said and done, I'm really looking forward to how the day unfolds as I'm hoping TFC escape with a draw from Red Bull Arena. TFC play the first eight games away from home and the realistic expectation is that we get 8 points from those matches. Not many are confident that we will leave New Jersey with any.
My buddy and I meet at BMO Field at 12:30 pm and make our way to Shoeless Joe's. Immediately when we enter the establishment, we see that it has filled up nicely. TFC fans, both young and old, have made it out in droves to cheer on the Reds and familiar faces reconvene after a long off-season. It's nice to see all the guys and girls again. The excitement of the new season really starts to sink in. We find seating at the far corner of the restaurant and start making all sorts of predictions about the upcoming match.
As said before, I would be chuffed with a draw. I wasn't really expecting much from the match and neither were many other fans at Shoeless. As the match draws closer, one of the Red Patch Boys gets on the restaurant's microphone and welcomes the crowd to the first game of the season. He does a great job of livening everybody up and getting them excited for the match ahead. All around us, the Red Patch Boys are creating a great atmosphere with their singing and banter.
Without going into too much detail about the match itself, the first half starts with some great pressing, but then quickly fades into the Red Bulls piling on the pressure for most of the half. The team from New Jersey has some great chances to go ahead, but fails to convert in front of goal.
At halftime, my buddy and I step outside for some fresh air. I'm still surprised that the score is 0-0. An older gentleman starts talking to us and telling us how irate he is at the performance. He believes that the midfield was being overrun and that the players in those positions were paid too highly to come up with a performance like that. I agreed with him to an extent, but I was genuinely happy that we managed to keep it 0-0 at the half. My buddy says that TFC would have to really come out for at least the first 10-15 minutes of the second half and put the pressure on the New Jersey Red Bulls.
To a degree, Toronto FC does exactly this for the first 5 minutes and then slips right back into familiar patterns. The Red Bulls were dominating even more now and every clearance, from any TFC defender, would go straight back to the opposition. You have to really respect groups like the Red Patch Boys in these instances, as they were still keeping a good atmosphere inside Shoeless.
Some of us start to become frustrated and shout really nasty curses at the telly. Eventually, Tsubasa Endoh wins a penalty for Toronto FC, totally against the run of play. Seba steps up, gives the Red Bulls' keeper the eyes, and converts coolly from the spot. Shoeless Joes erupts into total madness! TFC is leading 1-0! Everyone is jumping from their seats, hugging and celebrating together. Chants of "Seeeebassstiaan Giooovincoooo" echo around the place. Young Endoh has been a revelation in this match. It's his first professional game after being drafted in the off-season. All around us the mood has lifted ten-fold.
(Giovinco scores from the spot to put TFC up 1-0)
There is an older man sitting beside us, who we've been talking to all game. He seems pretty knowledgeable about football, in general. His eyes really light up as Tsubasa Endoh jogs off the pitch to be replaced by Ashtone Morgan. We find out later that he is actually Ashtone Morgan's father. What a coincidence! We are sitting at Shoeless Joes, right next to a guy whose son is playing for the team we are all there to watch. We talk with him about his experience as a soccer dad, whose kid made it professionally and he is very humble about it all. It's great to see that even relatives of professional players sit at supporter's bars and cheer for the team like we do.
New Jersey is now pushing forward and Seba receives a pass and plays a through-ball in for Marky Delgado, who is one-on-one with the keeper. He makes no mistake and TFC go up 2-0! The place erupts even louder than the first time! My buddy and I can't believe what's transpiring in front of our eyes! Initially, I thought one point would be tough to get, but to go up 2-0 with not a lot of time left, makes us ecstatic beyond belief.
The match ends 2-0 to TFC! We were dominated for most of the match, but managed to come out of Red Bull Arena with all three points! What a way to start the season!
After the match, we make our way to talk to some of the Red Patch Boys' membership team. They awesomely explain what some of the plans are for the season. One man in particular, who is the main memberships guy, shows us the merchandise that's available to all on behalf of the group. My buddy and I walk away with some nice gear for the new season. We get our hands on some nice scarves, pins, badges, and even rain parkas. All in all, it was turning out to be a fantastic afternoon of football. I really would encourage any fan to join a supporter's group. It makes the football experience that much better.
The one thing I know for sure now is that I will be visiting Shoeless Joe's again next week when we take on NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.
I can finally catch up on sleep now.
Where did you watch the first game? What was going through your head? Tell us in the comments below!