With the SuperDraft in the rear-view and the players set to report to training camp next week, the 2017 MLS season is upon us.
As such, the first mailbag of the year seems as good a time as any to look back on the 2016 season.
And what a season it was.
Fans of Toronto FC have waited a long time for a season like it; one that in the long and winding history of the club will undoubtedly be a memorable one, perhaps the most, right up there with the inaugural campaign.
The year began in optimism, despite the long road trip. Toronto established themselves as a contender, collecting more points on their travels than even the most optimistic of projections allowed. Playing away from home in MLS is never easy; doing so for an extended period all the more so.
There were swoons, of course; the home form after the travels was less than ideal – the club won just one of four straight at BMO Field.
And the inability to break down teams that bunkered, TFC's Achilles' heel, reared its head.
But what was remarkable was how the team, regardless of circumstance or injury – of which there were more than a few – was always in matches, losing by more than a single goal just once all season – the 3-0 loss at New York Red Bulls in May.
They joyfully, and with the utmost suspense, hoisted the Voyageurs Cup for the first time since 2012, ensuring a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League (whenever it is that it finally commences), and filling the first of the trophy cabinets at the Kia Training Ground. For his efforts, Will Johnson, despite the brevity of his TFC career, will forever be remembered.
It could be argued that the turning point came when they fell 2-1 at San Jose despite a two-man advantage. That heel once more exposed. Much though it outraged many, the match would spur a run of excellent form, winning four straight and going unbeaten through their next seven.
Fittingly, it was another such occasion where an opposition red card proved no advantage that ended that run, with Montreal's 1-0 upset victory in Toronto to close August.
TFC responded once more with a run of four unbeaten games, but with playoffs on the horizon, there was reason for concern. The club won just once in their final six matches, hardly the sort of form that usually dictates postseason success.
Granted, they only lost once in that span, a valuable factor come the two-legged affairs, but with a one-off knockout game on the horizon, nerves were jangled.
A quick opening goal from Sebastian Giovinco against the Philadelphia Union settled those fears and the team was able to show what they were made of, moving on to the next round.
They made quick work of NYCFC after a tentative, combative opening passage, scoring seven goals in the final 100 minutes of the series, setting MLS records in the process.
Then came that epic series with Montreal, which has been acclaimed as the best two-legged tie in MLS history.
It was an encounter that had everything. The drama, the swings of advantage and emotion, the goals, the rain... who could ask for anything more?
The crowd at BMO for the second leg was a sight to be seen, reminiscent of those heady days before repeated failures crushed the spirit that welcome the club's berth.
Regardless of what the future holds, that was a series that will still be talked about in 20 years’ time, taking the rivalry to an entirely new level.
After that, just a single match remained. And as fate would have it, Toronto would host the Seattle Sounders and the MLS Cup final on a frigid December night.
Much has been written about that night and the cruelty and the harshness of a game played with such fluidity being decided by spot kicks from 12 paces.
To call it unfair would be untrue; such are the rules of the game. Unsatisfying, however, is an apt tag.
Once more, that inability to break down an opponent proved decisive. Despite bossing much of the match, Toronto was unable to find a goal. For their efforts, Seattle did not manage a single shot on target.
And that a former TFC player, Stefan Frei, proved the hero on that cold night made perfect sense for a club that is still banishing the ghosts of the past.
Disappointing though it may have been, it was still quite the year. The players, management, and the fans should hold their heads high with what was accomplished.
And truth be told, given the current ambition and trajectory, it could be the first of many such memorable nights on the shores of Lake Ontario.
But now, none of that matters. Put those memories in a box, recall them fondly from time to time.
The table is reset, the slate wiped clean, and a new season, one that promises new twists and turns, new adventures and disappointments lays ahead.
What it brings remains to be seen; nothing is guaranteed, except that Waking the Red will be there covering it all. Will you?
Please leave any questions or comments in the section below and the ever-eager WTR staff will answer in kind.