There is a horrible time of the year, it comes annually and it’s dark and full of doom.
It’s called the English Premier League off-season.
During this horrible time, faith is tested, and seemingly all hope is lost without any chance of redemption. But this year was different. It had purpose. I learned something during this time.
During the break, Harry Kane was asked about Tottenham’s goals and aspirations this coming season and whether he envisioned a long term future with the London club. What Kane said surprised me. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of his answer was: “As a player, I just want to be in a position to win some trophies. It’s what every footballer wants. It’s what the club should strive for.”
It was a very enlightening and insightful answer from Kane. And a bit surprising to be frank. He didn’t make grandiose predictions about the UEFA Champions League. He didn’t come out and predict that the Spurs would overtake Manchester City for the Premiership title. Heck, he didn’t even put a Europa league title in the forecast. Just some trophies. FA Cup, a Coca-Cola Championship, Poppies Fish & Chips Silver Plate, whatever. Any trophies would do really.
I hadn’t thought much of that answer until just today when an email from Toronto FC implored me to consider getting a ticket to the upcoming Campeones Cup, pitting the MLS winner against the Liga MX winner.
When this Cup was first announced, I did an eye-roll at the whole event. To me it seemed like a redux of the failed idea of the SuperLeague from the late 2000’s. I wasn’t interested at all about another ‘money grab’ event with no history behind it. And based on early ticket sales, it seams many other Toronto FC fans felt the same way. I reasoned to myself that it seemed like a glorified friendly fixture, creating an unnecessary congestion in the schedule, during what would be our late season push to securing a second straight Supporters’ Shield and march towards the MLS Cup Playoffs.
And then this season happened.
Instead of deciding what colour shirt I should order for the inevitable ‘Double Treble’ marketing campaign, we TFC fans had to find some slivers of hope amongst the despair of the 2018 campaign.
The first sign of that hope came in the Voyageurs Cup. After seeing too many matches where the players looked listless and uninspired, it was nice to see the players treat the win with exuberance and that echoed into the stands. In this long and unexpected season, here was finally a moment to celebrate and jump up and cheer. Trophies, as it turns out, are fun to win. For a brief moment it’s less important to reflect on the history of the trophy, the quality of the competition, the meaning of the title, but rather to enter a moment of suspended disbelief, and just be a champion, of something. Of anything.
And that takes us to the upcoming Campeones Cup. The cynic (the old me) will see it as a one-off event, a meaningless exhibition game. But the passionate fan can see it as something much more. To enter this game, Toronto FC began a process that started in the spring of 2017, and didn’t end until that winter. This isn’t a one-night-only event, meaningless in the grand scheme of this team’s destiny. Instead it’s the culmination of a year and a half-long process in which Toronto FC stood at the top of the MLS Cup mountain, and earned the right to play against the best team from Mexico. While the cynic will decry (perhaps rightfully so) that it’s “just a trophy!”, the romantic will remind him that at the end, they’re all just trophies waiting to be won by someone. Who cares about the larger role of the trophy in the scheme of the universe?
The debate about what trophies are worth winning over others is an equal part debate about soccer tournaments, and about the existential crises that these lesser inanimate objects may feel from the teams and fans who they ultimately exist to appease. My interest lies in neither debate. I’m tired of debating who our best XI is, why we suffer so many injuries, whether it was a mistake to give up so many games early in the season, whether it’s Bono or Irwin, whether our defense has gotten slow and old in just 12 months. Better minds than I can argue those debates. It’s been a tough year, wouldn’t it be nice to see another trophy being held up by Michael Bradley, while some fireworks go off in the background? While we all jump around and high five our friends and families in the stands and sing along to Depeche Mode?
Let’s just take in these feel good moments where we can find them this season. Bring on Tigres. We have a worthwhile trophy to win.