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CONCACAF Champions League is Toronto FC’s platform to go from ‘best ever’ to dynasty

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The next step starts in two months.

MLS: MLS CUP-Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Not long after he had lifted the MLS Cup, Greg Vanney laid out the case for Toronto FC, best MLS team ever.

“Nobody has accomplished what this team has accomplished historically,” he said.

“We won, obviously, every championship along the way. [We] set a points record.

Their case was strengthened further, he argued, by “the way which this group went about their business over the course of a season”.

“And,” he added, “we're not done yet. We still have things in front of us that we want to continue to achieve.

“We’re still writing that story.”

For anyone not exhausted by this debate yet, that seems a fair summation of where we’re at. On the back of their Cup win, it is very difficult to make an argument that TFC are not the owners of the greatest single season the league has ever seen.

As far as best team goes - well, that comes down to how you define the title.

If we’re talking about the team that was the best at one moment in time, it’s in the bag for the reasons Vanney outlined.

But if that’s it for Toronto, if we’ve hit the summit, the clock on their status is already ticking. Eventually, someone always does it better - especially in a league on a steady upward curve like this one.

For true, lasting greatness, a few more chapters are needed.

Part of that is in MLS. Three clubs have won back-to-back championships, and two - D.C. United and the LA Galaxy - have won three in four years.

That kind of dominance is harder to achieve than ever in today’s league, and TFC already deserve a place in the conversation having been to back-to-back finals.

They will go after another MLS Cup in 2018 - “if anything makes you hungry, it’s winning,” Jozy Altidore said - and have as good a chance of lifting it as anyone, but another 12-point Supporters’ Shield win is probably too much to expect.

There is a second means by which they can build their legacy, though, that feels more realistic than ever.

It starts tonight, when the draw for the round of 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League is made in Miami at 7 p.m. ET.

Once again, Toronto’s goal in this competition will be to go where no MLS club has gone before. Only the Montreal Impact and Real Salt Lake have been to a Champions League final since the competition’s change in format in 2008, and both lost.

(D.C. United and the Galaxy both won the older version of the tournament, the CONCACAF Champions Cup, but it was substantially easier: they had to win three one-legged ties played at their home stadium.)

Toronto will be able to tap into the knowledge of a man who experienced one of those deep runs in president Bill Manning, who held the same role at Real Salt Lake when they lost the 2010-11 final to Monterrey.

“It gave me a taste of how close an MLS club could come to winning,” Manning said.

“I felt we were right there with them and I think this team [in Toronto] is as strong an MLS team as has ever played.

“I think this team will not have fear playing in CONCACAF. I think we can do something special.”

Success will, inevitably, mean beating the cream of Liga MX. Each Mexican season is split into an Apertura (opening) and Clausura (closing) championship and Tigres have won the past three Aperturas, finishing as runners-up in the most recent Clausura.

They have also been losers in the past two Champions League finals and are joined in this year’s field by one of their conquerors, Club America, as well as Chivas and Tijuana. The Seattle Sounders, Colorado Rapids, New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas are the American entrants.

Tigres deserve to be considered favourites but Toronto’s path through the three rounds that precede the final could be aided by the abnormally long wait each club has endured since sealing qualification.

Colorado, for example, were a mess in 2017 and appear a way off contending for the MLS Cup, let alone the Champions League, while Dallas will attempt to pick up the pieces after an almighty collapse this year.

In Mexico, Chivas and Tijuana both performed poorly in the most recent Apertura, failing to make the eight-team playoffs.

Tonight, though, the Rapids would be one of the tougher teams TFC could land.

CONCACAF

The first round of the new-look Champions League is seeded, meaning Toronto are safely nestled away from the Liga MX and MLS clubs - besides Colorado - as one of the eight highest-ranked teams according to the CONCACAF Club Index.

Either one of the Costa Rican clubs, Herediano or Saprissa, would be a reasonable test while the easiest draw would likely be Cibao, the Caribbean Club Championship winners from the Dominican Republic.

Two teams from Honduras (Motagua and Olimpia) and one apiece from Panama and El Salvador (Tauro and Santa Tecla respectively) are the other possibilities.

The action begins in the week commencing February 19, which means a change in preseason plans: TFC will forego their usual Orlando trip to travel to Mexico for a few friendlies instead.

“That will give us a little bit of feel of what it’s like to play in Mexico… [and for] that type of opponent,” Vanney explained.

A consequence of the early start may be a degree of squad rotation as Vanney manages a busy schedule, but a few lost points in the Supporters’ Shield race will not seem a heavy price to pay if he can mastermind a Champions League run.

Michael Bradley admitted that the next MLS Cup final felt like it was 50 years away after the loss to the Sounders 12 months ago, but in 2018 Toronto will have no wait at all for a big game.

“Once you have a season like we did this year,” Bradley said,” you want to do it again. You want to prove to every single person that we can sustain what we did for a longer period of time.

“The ability to do that… that’s what makes the best teams and the best clubs.”

That’s what makes dynasties.