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Toronto FC’s 2016 victory over Montreal that changed the team forever

The playoff series that was the turning point in TFC franchise history

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Montreal Impact v Toronto FC - Eastern Conference Finals - Leg 2
Benoit Cheyrou #8 (C) of Toronto FC celebrates a goal with Jonathan Osorio #21 (L) and Nick Hagglund #6 (R)
(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)

It was perhaps the first true “where were you when” moment in Toronto FC history.

Soaked in rain, Benoit Cheyrou headed home a Steven Beitashour cross to take Toronto FC to the club’s first ever MLS Cup Final.

The goal proved to be the decisive moment in one of the greatest playoff series in the league history. Canadian rivals Toronto FC and Montreal Impact played to an incredibly emotional, entertaining—and unpredictable—7-5 aggregate score in the 2016 Eastern Conference finals.

For your viewing pleasure, the second leg will be played in its entirety live on the MLS Youtube Channel tonight at 8 p.m. EST.

As always, it’s worth taking that walk down memory lane to the moment Toronto FC’s fortunes truly changed. Over those 210 minutes, the club officially slayed the myriad of demons that had hampered them for over a decade.

It all started in circumstances that seemed destined to return the team to the laughing stock of old. First there was the delay, in front of 61,000 fans at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, in which the grounds crew inexplicably painted the lines of the penalty area too small.

There was speculation thereafter that perhaps this was done on purpose to throw a Toronto FC team that was in incredible form off their game. Regardless, it added a rather comical start to the game that certainly wasn’t to the benefit of the visitors.

As they sat in their locker room a while longer than expected, perhaps the reds’ minds drifted back to the year before; not all, but many of those same players had been on the pitch when that very same Impact team thumped them 3-0 in franchise’s first ever playoff game.

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Toronto FC at Montreal Impact (Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

When the paint finally dried, that nightmare once again played out for Toronto FC. In typical Toronto fashion to that point, the club was undone by one of their former players as the speedy Dominic Oduro scored the opener before setting up the second goal. Ambroise Oyongo would add a third after half-time and Toronto were once again down 3-0.

This is where the story changes, however. While the second leg is largely the more memorable game of the series, given the theatre of it all, the first leg is where the franchise finally turned a corner.

In Joshua Kloke’s excellent book Come on You Reds on the history of Toronto FC, Michael Bradley recalls how different the locker room was at half-time from the year prior. Instead of looking defeated, the club looked determined to change their fate. Instead of “how is this happening again?” it was “how many away goals can we leave with”.

So with history, the odds and momentum stacked against them, this team refused to quit. First it was Sebastian Giovinco’s delicately chipped ball that found the head of Jozy Altidore, providing a critical away goal. But the club didn’t let up from there, as moments later it was captain Bradley who converted a layoff from Tosaint Ricketts.

MLS: Eastern Conference Championship-Toronto FC at Montreal Impact (Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

All of the sudden, a night that looked like another punchline in the ongoing joke that had been Toronto FC through the years had turned into a reasonably positive away outing. When the final whistle sounded, neither team looked particularly thrilled, but momentum had certainly swung in Toronto’s favour.

So when watching the second leg of the 2016 MLS Eastern Conference final tonight, the incredible seesaw battle that it was, don’t forget about how this all started. Because if Toronto had crumbled in the first leg, as they had so many times before, the stage would never have been set for the drama that followed.