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Toronto FC: The biggest football club in the world

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An oral history of how Toronto FC became the biggest football club in MLS, and then took over the world.

Montreal Impact v Toronto FC - Eastern Conference Finals - Leg 2 Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Note: this article originally appears in a 2020 Waking The Red edition and is syndicated in various world football publications.

The first 8 years of it’s existence being quite fruitless, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment went out and hired Tim Leiweke as President, who immediately sought to right the ship with the soccer club, Toronto FC. While success wasn’t immediate, Leiweke and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko laid the groundwork for a team who would make the MLS Cup in its 10th season, only to lose in the Finals. However, that was the last time the club suffered any loss of significance, and instead used that defeat to blaze through MLS, CONCACAF and eventually the world.

MLS: FC Dallas at Toronto FC Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

For the past several weeks, we have been speaking to various players and management about how Toronto FC got to these unprecedented heights, and even some of the poor opponents that were decimated along the way.

This is the Toronto FC story. In their own words.

Tim Leiweke: This is what I do. This is what I always intended to do. People blame me for the Dafoe deal, but what they don’t realize is that it was a Trojan horse, so we could sell him back to Sunderland and get Jozy Altidore. I had foreseen this all. Join me in the dark…

Tim Bezbatchenko: Honestly, Tim worked hard. He tried to petition the league for TFC to have 11 DP’s and then he wanted to go and buy the entire starting XI from Barcelona. But Don Garber was insistent that wasn’t going to happen.

<Don Garber was unavailable for comment as he was visiting Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Spokane, Washington for possible expansion sites>

Michael Bradley: Once we had Jozy and Sebastian in the squad, I could see signs of what we were to become. Obviously that 2015 playoff loss to Montreal hurt, but we knew we had the chance to come back strong.

The run of an unprecedented trophy haul began in the summer of 2016, with the 5th Canadian Championship, which was won in heroic fashion in Vancouver.

Benoit Cheyrou: One day I showed up to BMO Field in my beautiful Porsche and Greg Vanney says to me “hey Benny, it’s you and the kids…we need you”. Well, of course, I parked my Porsche and took these kids under my wing and next thing you know I made players out of Oso and Hamilton. They had a brace each. They were good. But I did not let them sit in my Porsche.”


(Editor’s note: comment truncated for maintaining a family friendly atmosphere at Waking the Red)

After securing their 5th Canadian Championship, the team went onto ride their momentum all the way to the MLS Cup Final at BMO Field.

Bradley: I was dominant. I ran things. But that stupid penalty kick is all anyone remembers. I hate penalty kicks.

Sebastian Giovinco: I mean come on? Could the Argos even sell out Lamport Stadium? I just spoke the truth.

Greg Vanney: I hate Stefan Frei.

MLS: MLS Cup John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Despite falling short, the club re-tooled over the 8-day off-season, and came roaring back for the 2017 Campaign. With finally signing the missing midfield piece, TFC were on their way.

Armando Cooper:’re not talking about me are you?

Former Barca midfielder Victor Vazquez: I have more recently played for Brugge, and Cruz Azul, but it was weird, before I signed, the team made me legally change my name to “former Barca midfielder Victor Vazquez”. Whatever. I have the TAM to do these kinds of things now.

Giovinco: Juve is better than Barca.

Cheyrou: My Porsche is much nicer than what he has.

After running through the MLS regular season with a 22-5-7 record, destroying Montreal in the playoffs, and winning the MLS Cup at BMO Field with a 4-1 victory over Los Angeles, the team had reached domestic bliss.

Vanney: Where are all those #fireVanney fools now? Huh?

Bezbatchenko: No one in CONCACAF could tell us what was next. We didn’t know when we were going to the Champions League, or if we had even qualified.

Victor Montagliani: As president of CONCACAF, I needed to make sure the payments, sorry, I mean details were all sorted out before we could proceed. Please don’t write payments. Or kickbacks. Please?

Bezbatchenko: The team finally was able to play in CONCACAF Champions League in 2018. For a competition we had originally qualified for in the summer of 2016. It was strange. Nobody had seen this coming.

Leiweke: I had foreseen this.

Jozy Altidore: We rolled through man, rolled through. These guys couldn’t hold me down, we were destroying them.

Bradley: It was beautiful. No matter who we faced in what round, we were rolling. We were tactically superior than anyone else.

Vanney: You hear that? #fireVanney my ass!

Giovinco: I mean some of those fields we played on though…wow. Do CFL teams practise there?

After beating Club America in front of 65,000 fans in Mexico City, Toronto FC were CONCACAF Champions League winners, and on their way to the prestigious 2018 FIFA Club World Club Championship.

Bradley: This is what we had all come to Toronto FC for. Yes the DP salaries are great, but Jozy, Seba and I always wanted to test ourselves against the best clubs in the world.

Altidore: Australia, Asia, Oceania, Africa, South America…we just viewed them as appetizers until we met the big boys from Europe. We wanted Barca all along.

Barcelona v Rubin Kazan - UEFA Champions League Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Vazquez: the players and management from Barca acted like they didn’t even know who I was! Hahaha, those pranksters!

Luis Suarez: Yes, certainly we took them a little lightly in the first half. I mean what is the MLS? I ignored everything from the coaching staff. I honestly wanted to bite Giovinco, but he was too fast.

Leo Messi: I honestly didn’t even know much about our opponents, but I knew they had world-class players. I also knew if I lost to Toronto, the media and Cristiano Ronaldo would never let me hear the end of it.

Cristiano Ronaldo: I texted him after the game, using just my abs.

(Editor’s Note: we were able to find the text by utilizing the Access to Information act, it was just HAHA repeated 672 times.)

Vanney: I outcoached Luis Enrique. Come talk to me bro!

Shocking the world, TFC ran roughshod through the tournament, and finally met Barcelona in the Finals. While not playing their best, it was still a relatively simple victory for the Reds, as they ran through the Catalonian team with a 3-1 victory.

Bezbatchenko: That’s when it all started, I’d sit there with President Bill Manning, and we started getting all this attention from everywhere, celebrities now wanted to be at BMO Field, and we have more media following us that the Maple Leafs and Raptors combined. It was the turning point. We had grown huge

Bill Manning: We crushed Barcelona like we crushed the Canadian Premier League!!!!!! Hahahahahaha.

Bradley: Front office was worried about marketing us, Vanney kept laughing, and Cheyrou was busy polishing and waxing new Porches. I really had to assert my captain’s role then. Make sure we didn’t let success get to us. I was still hungry.

Mirroring the previous season of 2017, TFC won the Canadian Championship, the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup in 2018, and again went on to win the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League, before meeting Manchester United in the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup.

Jose Mourinho: I thought I was the special one. Well, that sonofagun over there…Gregory Vanney? He is the Extra Special One.

Vanney: Eat it suckers.

Giovinco: The pitch was beautiful. It was a soccer pitch. I did not tire. I could have ran on that grass forever.

Altidore: Once we beat Man U, that’s it. There wasn’t a bigger club than us in the world. We tried flying all over Europe to play friendlies against these big clubs, they were afraid of us. No one wanted to take us on. And they sure didn’t want a piece of us at BMO Field.

Bradley: It was magic, looking back now, those years, those friendships, that success…No one in or around TFC could have seen this coming.

Leiweke: I had foreseen all of it. All of it.