Toronto FC lost the 2016 MLS Cup final, on penalties, and then rallied back to lift the trophy last year. They have only lost back-to-back games twice in the past two seasons.
However you want to spin it, this team has become incredibly good at bouncing back from losses, even the toughest ones. They learn their lessons and move on, only using the disappointment to fuel more success.
That is what the club has already said they will aim to do after losing, once again on penalties, to Chivas in the CONCACAF Champions League final. The day after losing MLS Cup in 2016, Toronto FC players had already started formulating a plan to get back there the next season. This loss is probably no different.
Where this loss does differ, however, is how difficult it will be to recover from. Getting a few spot kicks away from winning a continental trophy is perhaps the most impressive thing this club has ever done, but the campaign has come at a cost.
After losing the MLS Cup in 2016, Toronto FC had time to think it all over. To reflect, and get away from it all. It’s a luxury they won’t be afforded again this time; tomorrow Toronto FC gets back into league play and nobody there is going to feel sorry for them in the slightest.
In fact, both Chicago and Philadelphia, their next two opponents, are looking for ways to kickstart their MLS season. What better way to do that than a win against the “best team in league history?”
Only they aren’t the best team in league history right now, that team had actual centre-backs. Toronto FC will try to play this weekend’s match without Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga, Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow, and potentially Eriq Zavaleta and Jason Hernandez. One could blame Tim Bezbatchenko for not addressing this issue fully, only when five centre-backs go down it's pretty hard to say that’s anything other than bad luck.
On top of this, Jozy Altidore, Victor Vazquez and Gregory van der Wiel all played the final through injuries. With Saturday’s game not being a strictly must-win match, do any of them risk themselves? These are just the injuries we know about, there are probably plenty of players carrying little knocks right now.
So that lineup that was rolled out in Colorado and Houston? That might not be the last we’ve seen of that group, or at least many of those pieces. Toronto FC still has plenty of time to get back into form in the league, but it might be a while before they can do it at full strength.
All the while there will be expectations. When you have been as good as TFC have for the past couple of years fans anticipate a certain standard of play. When that doesn’t happen they start to get aggravated, and at least some TFC fans’ standards right now are unrealistically high.
History isn’t on Toronto’s side, either. It’s a small sample size, but of the seven MLS teams who have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, only one has ever won a domestic trophy in that same season. That was 2012 Toronto FC, who claimed a Voyageurs Cup back when Montreal wasn’t even an MLS side yet and Vancouver was in their inaugural season.
In fact, the dynastical LA Galaxy of 2010-2014 only went one year where they did not win at least one of the MLS Cup or Supporters’ Shield. That was 2013 when they made the Champions League semi-finals. Like Toronto FC, they were worldbeaters at the time.
Only 2011 Real Salt Lake have ever won a home-and-away MLS playoff series in the same year they reached a CCL semi. Again, it’s a very small sample size but the theory is that this kind of run can take a lot of energy out of a team and it catches up with them eventually.
None of those teams had even close to as grueling of a run as Toronto FC. For starters, Toronto FC played two extra knockout games as part of the competition’s new format. During that time they traveled to three of the most difficult away venues in Mexico, and the most difficult away venue in MLS. They also had to play on a subpar BMO Field pitch the whole time.
The mental scars of this loss haven’t even been touched on yet because, well, they probably don’t matter as much as the aforementioned factors. But they will still affect this team, and this is not a loss that one gets over quickly.
So much less worrying about somehow getting back to next year’s Concacaf Champions League final, Toronto FC just has to worry about getting back on their feet before other trophies start to come into question.
However, here is the part of the article where it must be mentioned that Toronto FC is not like other MLS sides. Why? Because it continues to be proven true, and even in that heartbreaking loss in Guadalajara it was validated.
Toronto has the luxury of five of its next six games at home at BMO Field. They won’t have to worry about crazy travel, this is a chance for every to get healthy and refocused. The stadium’s crowd will undoubtedly help to rejuvenate spirits as well.
The road to redemption this time will be far more treacherous. The club has to deal with heartbreak, injury and fatigue with no rest in sight. But betting against Toronto FC has proved silly in the past, and who is to say it won’t be again this time.