It wasn’t long ago that Toronto FC was regarded as one of the worst teams in Major League Soccer history. Now, they’re at the pinnacle of success – and in a unique position to permanently transform soccer’s reputation in Canada.
On Saturday, Toronto FC (Football Club) won the MLS Cup by beating Seattle Sounders 2-0 in front of 30,584 raucous fans at Toronto’s BMO Field. This capped off the greatest single season in league history.
Toronto FC broke the regular season record for total points (69), earning the Supporters’ Shield. It won the sixth Canadian Championship in club history, beating fellow MLS side Montreal Impact in the final. These two honours, combined with the MLS Cup, compose what’s known as the domestic treble – which had never been accomplished by any MLS team before this year.
It’s a remarkable achievement when you consider this team, which played its first game in 2007, had never finished higher than 11th place until the 2016 season.
In the last three seasons, however, they have grown by massive leaps and bounds. The club reached the playoffs via the knockout round in 2015, had a fifth-place finish and magical run to the MLS Cup final in 2016 (losing to the Sounders), and climbed to the mountain top in 2017.
Moreover, Toronto FC is the first Canadian-based team to win the MLS Cup – as well as the first to win any major North American soccer title in nearly four decades.
The Toronto Metros-Croatia (later the Toronto Blizzard) won the prestigious North American Soccer League’s Soccer Bowl in 1976, followed by the original Vancouver Whitecaps in 1979. None of the three incarnations of the Major Indoor Soccer League included Canadian squads. The Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps FC won titles in the old second-tier United Soccer Leagues Division 1, and the USL’s Ottawa Fury reached the final of the now-second-tier NASL’s Soccer Bowl 2015.
In spite of this, soccer (or football, if you prefer) has had a mixed history in this country.
Canada’s Galt FC won the gold medal in the 1904 Summer Olympics, but this accomplishment has long disappeared in the sands of time.
Some players, including B.C.’s Bob Lenarduzzi, the driving force for the Whitecaps during its incredible 1979 NASL championship season, became household names locally.
Our nation reached the FIFA World Cup in 1986, but didn’t score a goal in three games.
It’s therefore felt like several lifetimes since Canadian soccer had a champion to call its own. Toronto FC has earned this title and can now promote the game in our country like no other franchise before them.
While this game has European roots, soccer has been an international success story in South America, Africa and Asia for decades. Three of the world’s five most valuable franchises play this sport: No. 3 Manchester United (worth US$3.69 billion), No. 4 FC Barcelona (US$3.64 billion) and No. 5 Real Madrid (US$3.58 billion).
As Canada’s multicultural society continues to expand, new immigrants bring their love for the ‘beautiful game’ to our home and native land. While many of Toronto FC’s top players are from abroad – including Jozy Altidore (U.S.), Alex Bono (U.S.), Sebastian Giovinco (Italy) and Víctor Vázquez Solsona (Spain) – Canadian-born stars like Tosaint Ricketts and Jordan Hamilton will continue to encourage others to match their impressive feats.
It will be a fierce battle for the hearts and minds of Canadians. We’re a hockey country at heart, and also feel a sense of national pride with respect to curling, lacrosse and the Canadian Football League.
Nevertheless, the success of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays and basketball’s Toronto Raptors has helped open the doors for young, budding stars in different sports.
Thanks to Toronto FC’s historic MLS season, soccer could end up being another avenue and breeding ground for young Canadian talent.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.