It’s interesting how some of the less esteemed moments in life can be the most memorable. Some of these memories spring to mind: haggling with customers while working in a part-time job, goofing off in high school, etc. Little moments like these should serve as a mere footnote to be forgotten stick in the back of your mind only to pop out of nowhere once again.
Saturday was one of those days. I’ve been to many more important Toronto FC matches over the years and watched many others on television, but there was something about this match that I had never felt before. It was just different.
After 2 years of delay, the 2020 Canadian Championship Final was set to take place at Tim Hortons Field. There was some buzz about the game, particularly from Forge FC fans, who would watch their club play against one of the biggest teams in Canada in one of their most important matches — ever. I came as an intrigued Toronto FC fan, sitting right beside the Toronto FC away supporter’s section at the far end of the stadium. I’ve never been to an away game as a Reds fan before, so it felt special to go to one just 45 minutes from my hometown, Kitchener.
As I walked into the stadium there was an amusing phenomenon that was apparent: many Toronto FC fans had come in groups with fellow Forge fans to watch the game. There was a guy near where I sat who cheered for Toronto FC while wearing a TFC jersey yet wore a Forge FC hat as well. A fairly clever decision by him as he could always zip up his sweater at the end of the game to hide his jersey and ask for an autograph from Kyle Bekker if need be. All of that aside, it was intriguing to see how many fans of opposing teams seemed to be together. I suppose that’s reminiscent of the fact that Hamilton is so close to Toronto that many diehard Hamilton-based TFC fans had to choose between supporting their local club or supporting the team they have cheered on for years. A tough decision indeed.
I took a seat right near the away supporters’ section and was immediately amazed at how close I was to the players. The last time I had been this close to the pitch in a Toronto FC game was when we played Santos Laguna back in the 2012 CONCACAF Champions League. Since I was young then, I enjoyed the experience but didn’t quite appreciate the game to the extent I did this time. We were in shouting distance of the players for ticket prices that would get you a nosebleed seat in a TFC game. I’ve been to a few Forge FC games in the past, and I’ve always been pleased with their seat prices. Ticket prices for most major sports teams in Canada are quite expensive, so it’s great that CanPL teams are filling the void by offering cheaper tickets to decent quality games.
Speaking of being in ‘shouting distance’ from the TFC players, one Forge FC fan really took advantage of that. One funny moment was when he obnoxiously was yelling out “I LIKE YOUR PINK SHIRTS” to the TFC players as they trained on the sidelines, Jacob Shaffelburg gave him the funniest looking dirty look. He did (unintentionally) have some good soccer analysis when he kept yelling out that it’s surprising that we’re a league above them. To be fair, you would’ve thought Forge FC was the MLS side after watching that game, but it’s great that luck finally came our way to secure us the championship.
The even-matched performance that led to the 1-1 draw kept the match captivating. A stunner from Pozuelo quickly followed up by a goal from Tristian Borges kept the game level. Toronto FC continued to severely underperform, particularly on the defensive side of their game. Forge on the other hand took advantage of that, taking 18 shots to Toronto’s 11. It was a nail-biting game indeed, which produced an exciting atmosphere all around the stadium. There were over 13 thousand fans at the game, one of the highest in Forge FC history. Aided by two robust opposing supporters’ groups, the atmosphere was electric.
After the final whistle, a penalty shootout was set to happen to break the deadlock. Before this one, TFC had lost 2 crucial shootouts in the finals (2016 MLS Cup Final and 2018 CONCACAF Champions League Final). Given that I tend to be a bit of a cynic at times, I was beginning to see orange. Forge took the lead after Deandre Kerr missed his penalty shot but soon were tied up once again when Kyle Bekker had his kick saved by Quentin Westberg. After Kwasi Poku missed Forge FC’s sixth penalty kick to seal the victory for the Reds, TFC players rushed onto the field to celebrate. Some of the players came right up to the stand I was standing at the edge of to sign little kids’ jerseys and posters. This might seem trivial if you’re part of a Toronto FC supporters’ group who has seen this multiple times, but it was amazing to see players like Jayden Nelson and Jakheele Marshall-Rutty come right up to you to take selfies and sign shirts. As someone who watches TFC much more on television than going to the games, it was surreal to see TFC players as people, and not just as footballers running around on the pitch.
As I’ve said before, it was a great game to watch in person. Lots of fans were in attendance, and notably, many appeared to not follow either team particularly heavily. Lot’s of “who’s that guy” kind of comments about certain players on our team, but it’s great to see casual fans in attendance. This game helped to siphon off a new segment of fans who might live closer to Steeltown or may be more willing to go to a game with cheaper ticket prices. The kind of crowd Forge FC games bring in creates an atmosphere that feels reminiscent of the old days for TFC. No stadium roof and more of a family atmosphere at play. Every team has its own fan culture, and Forge FC has a similar, yet different one from Toronto FC which I appreciate.
A little over 10 years ago, my dad took my family over to our first ever TFC game. We weren’t a big soccer family, with me playing house league soccer and my dad knowing a lot more about baseball. However, we went thinking it was an MLS game to only figure out it was something different when the victorious team lifted a trophy at the end of the game. We had accidentally picked a Canadian Championship match to go to. The Canadian Championship (accidentally) helped get us interested in Canadian soccer and hopefully brang more fans into the sport last Saturday. The future is bright for soccer in Canada, and this match was just one of the many valuable bolts in the machine that will help make Canada truly become a great soccer nation.