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Photo Essay: Toronto FC’s road back to the MLS Cup

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The 2017 season to date through the lens of Tagwa Moyo (@Shuttersworth on Instagram).

Tagwa Moyo / Waking the Red

The road back to the MLS Cup final has been a long and winding one for Toronto FC. Along the way there have been some speed bumps and some unexpected turns, and the road has certainly gotten more hazardous the closer the club gets to the end.

But along the way there have been a number of memorable moments that have helped make this record-breaking year so special. There has been late goals, controversy and trophies lifted.

BMO Field has been treated to some pretty spectacular theatre in 2017, and Waking the Red’s photographer, Tagwa Moyo, has been there to capture it all. Here is a collection of his favourite shots from the year and a reminder of how TFC got back to MLS’ biggest game.

Great expectations

Tagwa Moyo/Waking the Red

It seems incredible, given all that Toronto have accomplished so far this season, that they still have yet to reach their primary goal. Since the start of the year it has been clear that they want one thing above all others: to lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.

That sentiment was echoed among fans and the media; now that Toronto had a taste of glory, only silverware would satisfy. Those were the expectations that TFC have been saddled with ever since they ended 2016 with heartbreak.

Tim Bezbatchenko worked behind the scenes to retool an already strong squad, bringing in big-money signings like Chris Mavinga and Victor Vazquez. In doing so Toronto signalled their intent: they were leaving nothing to chance this year.

BoNO

Tagwa Moyo/Waking The Red

After Clint Irwin was re-acquired by Toronto following the expansion draft, it looked like Alex Bono would spend another year as the backup goalkeeper. But after Irwin suffered an injury in the home opener, Bono took over the net and never gave it back.

At 23 - young, but especially young for a goalkeeper - Bono has proven himself to be one of the best in MLS this season. He finished fourth in Goalkeeper of the Year voting, and broke several single-season club records along the way.

His importance has only doubled in the playoffs. Several big saves have kept Toronto alive and, to this point, he has been the club’s postseason MVP.

Raheem the Dream

Tagwa Moyo/ Waking The Red

Over the past few months, we have seen a pretty consistent and mostly predictable Toronto lineup.

But for much of the season, it wasn’t like that. Through injuries and international breaks, Toronto’s squad depth was consistently being called upon. More often than not, it delivered.

After impressing in training camp, Raheem Edwards was easily Toronto’s ‘rookie’ of the year, even if playing one minute in 2016 denied him a chance at the league’s official honour. His quick feet and quality passing skills down the wing have kept him in the TFC lineup throughout the season, even if his minutes have been limited of late.

Be it Jordan Hamilton, Jason Hernandez, Jay Chapman, Ben Spencer, Ashtone Morgan, Benoit Cheyrou, Oyvind Alseth or Tsubasa Endoh, there has been no shortage of depth players who have stepped up when called upon. Half of TFC’s team, it seems, could be considered unsung heroes.

Morrow’s career year

Tagwa Moyo/Waking The Red

The ‘secret’ part in secret weapon might not have always been true. He finished runner-up in the Defender of the Year voting even if he was more of a midfielder. But however you categorize him, Justin Morrow was an invaluable piece of the Toronto FC puzzle this season.

With eight goals and an assist, he became a vital piece of a diversified offensive unit. His aggressive play often pressed back and stretched the opposing defence, opening up space for himself and others.

Canadian champions... again

Tagwa Moyo / Waking the Red

The Voyageurs Cup was the first piece of silverware that Toronto picked up in this historic season. After changes to the format of the CONCACAF Champions League denied TFC the spot in continental competition they thought they had earned by winning the Canadian Championship in 2016, they went out and won it again.

The tournament has had no shortage of drama in its finals of late, and this year was no different. Sebastian Giovinco scored late in the second leg to give Toronto FC a 3-2 win on aggregate over rivals the Montreal Impact.

It was Toronto FC’s sixth Voyageurs Cup and gives them a chance at something that has never been done before in MLS: a domestic treble.

From 30 yards

Tagwa Moyo/Waking The Red

With teams starting to figure out ways to keep him quiet during open play, Giovinco turned to free-kicks as his weapon of choice in 2017. He scored six this season, a new MLS record. He now has 13 in total in MLS, which is also a record.

He added to that tally in the playoffs against the New York Red Bulls to give Toronto a big 2-1 win away from home. All of this will have the Seattle Sounders wary of fouling anyone near their box in Saturday’s MLS Cup final. If they do, there’s a good chance they will be picking the ball out of the back of their net.

Record breakers

Tagwa Moyo/Waking The Red

A commitment to excellence earned Toronto their second trophy of the season, the 2017 Supporters’ Shield. They went into every game this year with a must-win mentality, and most of the time they delivered. They were able to amass 69 points this year, a new MLS record.

It is the first time Toronto have lifted the Shield as the league’s best regular-season side. The trophy itself is proof of how far this club has come both on and off the field since its humble beginnings in 2007.

All eyes on Altidore

Tagwa Moyo/Waking The Red

Jozy Altidore’s name sure has appeared in a lot of headlines lately.

First, there was his part in the United States missing the 2018 World Cup. Then followed his scapegoating and mistreatment at the hands of American soccer supporters. Finally, he was involved in a fight during Toronto’s first home playoff game, earning a red card and a suspension as a result.

Altidore’s story, however, has taken a happy turn of late. After suffering an injury and looking unable to continue in the second leg of the conference final, he scored the goal that sent TFC through to the MLS Cup final on one leg.

That injury is likely to bother him to a certain extent when the Sounders visit. But at this point in his career, will all the big moments he has missed due to injury, he isn’t going to miss this one.