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How I became a long-distance Toronto FC fan

The difference in time zone doesn’t prevent me from following the boys in Red all the way from Malta.

Soccer- MLS Championship Match Toronto FC vs Seattle Sounders FC Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

I could not hold my tears back. It was a surreal moment for me watching my team in the early hours of the morning completing a historic treble.

December 9, 2017 will forever remain one of the memorable dates in my life. On that night, Toronto FC put on a majestic display in BMO Field, outclassing and out-muscling the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final, the same opponents who dashed our dreams the previous year.

MLS: MLS CUP-Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC
Toronto FC claiming their first ever MLS Cup.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

I am probably speaking on behalf of every TFC supporter, who reacted the same way I did on that cold night in Canada. However, through this piece I want to highlight why my story may be a bit more special.

I have been following the club for the past four to five seasons now, from the island of Malta — in southern Europe, in a time zone six hours ahead of Toronto.

Yet, I’d had Major League Soccer on my radar already for quite some time, courtesy of the blockbuster transfer of David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy ahead of the 2007 season.

Leaving Real Madrid for another club is already huge news, and adding a non-European club to that equation sounds more bizarre. It was especially bizarre during that period where the Spanish giants earned the Galacticos nickname, depicting them as immaculate divas.

Having followed closely Beckham’s move and his new team, naturally I ended up taking a closer look at the new league — the so-called MLS.

2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

I have to admit that the club names were not at all aligned with the traditional names I am used to in Europe: the San Jose Earthquakes, LA Galaxy themselves and the Kansas City Wizards. I also struggled to understand the concept of the playoffs and the non-existence of promotion/relegation. Fast forward few years, and I became an advocate of the US system because somehow it strikes a balance between the participants.

Nonetheless, the importation of big names such as Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez and Marco Di Vaio kept me glued to my television sets to watch the North American league in the late hours of the night, between one coffee and another, a few hours before school, and now work.

After five years of randomly watching MLS games while reading about what on earth are trades, allocation money, and all the transfer rules characterizing this league, I was still not struck by any team in particular.

That was to change in July 2012, when Liverpool, under the guidance of the then newly-appointed Brendan Rodgers, started their pre-season with a scrimmage against a side called Toronto FC.

Immediately, I noticed that among the unknown players of TFC, there was former German international Torsten Frings, who spearheaded his side to wonderful performance, grinding out a 1-1 draw against the Reds.

My reaction following that tie was, “here is my team.” To be fair, I was also influenced by the supporters of the club who were, and are still, very loud and passionate, something which was still lacking across MLS grounds and was one of the closest things I found between MLS and European soccer.

Even though that season TFC finished rock bottom overall, I was eager to see them in action the following year, hoping for a resurgence of the club...which did not happen at all despite the signings of high-caliber players like Julio Cesar and Jermain Defoe, and the appointment of Blackburn legend Ryan Nelsen as coach at one point.

Nonetheless, the disappointing campaigns did not hinder my passion towards the club, and its faithful and cheerful supporters, staying up late at night finding legal streams to watch the game whenever I could not catch up with it on TV.

Obviously, the game changer was in January 2015, when General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko managed to secure Sebastian Giovinco in an absolute coup which turned the fortunes of TFC once for all, rewarding me for my loyalty to the club.

In the meantime, supporting this amazing club helped to me to meet new people, called Torontonians, discussing every game with them while expanding my knowledge about the club and the league, but also about the city which I hope to visit very soon.

Somehow, through my posts on social media I have also engaged lot of Maltese people with the club, especially those who have relatives in the Canadian city and that made me feel like kind of an ambassador, on a minor scale of course.

Through this article, I would like to take the opportunity to greet all my friends of Toronto who are hopefully tuning into our website, in particular those affiliated with every supporter club of TFC who fill the BMO stands week in week out.

“We started from the bottom, now were here.”

SOCCER: OCT 15 MLS - Montreal Impact at Toronto FC Photograph by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images