2018 Toronto FC season preview

“The most difficult thing for players to do when they become part of a team is to sacrifice. It is much easier, and much more natural, to be selfish.” – NBA coach/GM Pat Riley from his bookShowtime

Athletes in any sport don't get to where they are by being anything less than hyper-focused on their individual abilities and skills. Some players are naturally a little bit more individualistic, and others a little less so, but even the greatest "team first!" players in the history of the game – Carles Puyol or Claude Makelele or insert your personal favorite here – spent thousands of hours working as an individual, thinking as an individual, planning as an individual.

Do that well enough and you eventually become part of a team. Get lucky, and you'll be surrounded by other guys who've A) worked as hard, and B) are as willing to sacrifice their individuality for the greater good. When that happens, your team becomes elite. When elite teams jell, they win trophies.

That's was the path for Toronto last year. Every player on the roster, young and old, famous and not, sacrificed. And because of that, they won like no team in MLS history has won before:

Now comes the tricky part. Riley's quote above was in reference to how the Lakers won the NBA title in 1980, then everybody came back a little bit too happy with themselves, a little bit too selfish and individualistic, and a little bit less willing to sacrifice in 1981. He called it "the disease of more" and it is a disease that no champion in any league has ever been entirely inoculated against (Zidane's current Madrid team says hello).

Sporting KC haven't won a playoff game since the 2013 MLS Cup. The Galaxy are, um, no longer quite what they were in 2014. The 2016 Timbers missed the playoffs, and the 2017 Sounders sleepwalked until July. Being great one year and then being great again the next is hard work, mentally and physically, and most teams can't do it.

So forget about the Xs and Os here. There's a formation change, new depth at right back and attacking midfield, a relative lack of it at left back, and all of that matters. But my guess is that it matters less in determining TFC's year-over-year greatness than the internal struggle against the disease of more.

If the Reds win that fight there's no reason to think they won't, once again, win the league.