Everything will be forgiven with a win on Wednesday night. Well, maybe not everything, but certainly most things. Forget this lost MLS season, forget the heart breaking CCL loss to Chivas, forget the lack of player infusion, forget the stupid red cards — Wednesday’s Canadian Championship final against Vancouver is now the only game that matters this year.
The immediate reason is obvious — a trip to the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League, and a chance at redemption. But this game is about more than just that. It is the only remaining chance for the Champions to feel like champions once more. More important than what Toronto FC will gain by beating Vancouver is what Toronto FC will lose if they fail to defeat the Whitecaps. This team, and its loyal fans, have taken a terrible emotional beating over the past seven months. You can hear it in the players’ post-match interviews, you can see it on their faces, and you can see it in their poor play and petulant behaviour on the field.
This year, there has been nothing but excuses: too many injuries, too many games, too much travel, too shabby a field. Last year, when the team was winning everything in sight, there were no excuses; there were just results. Heck, forget last year; during this year’s Champions League there were no excuses. The team just found a way to win. Champions always find a way to win. But, since that memorable night in Guadalajara, these champions have found a way to whine. A win against Vancouver, and a trip back to the big tournament, may change that. A loss will do nothing but compound the problem.
Arguably, the CCL final against Chivas was the turning point in the players’ collective attitude. Toronto FC put everything into that tournament and, despite a full application of all their resources, they fell just short. That massive disappointment spilled over into the MLS season — there was no rest for the vanquished. In TFC’s first game back, Alan Gordon did his part against a fatigued TFC to remind the Reds that their tired best still wasn’t good enough. Loss after loss compounded the situation and the team just kept spiraling. The absolute low point, and final proof that this MLS season was over, was that humiliating loss to Minnesota United. Minnesota United?!
The “All for One” culture is on the wane, and more recent events have done nothing to change that perception. Jozy Altidore’s behaviour during Sunday’s game was absolutely inexcusable. No one is above the team. Ever. But, it’s more than just Altidore. Two other exhibits are Chris Mavinga’s craziness in Atlanta and Alex Bono’s attitude change during his post-game interview. Prior to Sunday, even as late as the July 1 game against the New York Red Bulls, Bono absolved his teammates of all guilt and absorbed all the blame for letting in a soft goal. However, despite letting in a similarly soft goal against NYCFC, the young keeper stopped way short of absolving his mates. Instead, a dejected Bono said that he was “a little bit screened at the top” and that “it may have taken a deflection”. I am not picking on Bono. I am using this as an illustration of a notable change in attitude — one also exemplified by others on the team.
But, now, there is an immediate chance to change all of that. As the contrasts of 2017 and 2018 have taught us, winning breeds a completely different team environment. Despite beating up on a deflated and despondent Chicago outfit, this Toronto team seems to have forgotten how to win. Hoisting the Voyageurs Cup for a third straight year, against a strong Vancouver club, would be a grand step for TFC towards regaining their confidence — both individually and in each other.
Despite the lack of ticket sales (Groupon, anyone?) and the lack of a guaranteed television contract before the final, this tournament is a big deal. This is especially true for the 2018 Reds. A win propels this team towards a greater goal, it gives them something to look forward to in 2019, and it gives them something to look back on — an experience from which to draw strength for the remaining eleven games of the year (twelve, if you include the Campeones Cup). A loss only adds to the death spiral and to more excuses and whining. That’s why this game matters so much. That’s why the lads need our support now more than ever! If you can, try to get to BMO Field to cheer the champions back to the top of the podium. After all, this may be the last real celebration of the year. Given all that has transpired, this team deserves a chance to celebrate, and so do we!
Remember: Champions always find a way to win. This team, our team, just needs a spark to remember what that feels like. Go Reds!