TORONTO – Winning a major trophy is an achievement. Winning three in one year is exceptional. Marching through your parity-ruled league with a mere five league losses out of 34 is special. And doing it all just five years after one of your own star players dubbed you, with good reason, “the worst team in the world?"
After a calendar’s worth of dominance in all competitions, Toronto FC dropped the mic at a feverish BMO Field on Saturday – doing not merely what was required to hoist the 2017 MLS Cup and complete their unprecedented treble, but producing a definitive encomium of what they’ve done and who they are.
“On the biggest night, with everything on the line, to play the way that we did, to go after it the way we did, to dominate the way we did, I’m so proud of our team,” said captain Michael Bradley in a champagne-soaked TFC locker room post-game.
“We set out this year to win. To win everything. To win every game, to win every trophy, and we came damn close to winning every game and we did win every trophy. And so I’m so proud of that and we’re going to enjoy this, we’re going to celebrate this, and when the dust settles in the next few days we’re going to get ready to do it again – with the addition of [CONCACAF] Champions League next year.”
Playmaker Victor Vazquez, his exquisite technique and vision made even more influential than usual by TFC’s shift to a diamond midfield, was blunt about the extent of his team’s mastery against the defending champions from Seattle.
“We put four players in the middle and they [Seattle] were lost. They didn’t know what to do,” said the Spaniard, revealing that his Sounders countryman Victor Rodriguez admitted as much as they walked into the locker rooms at intermission.
“He was saying, ‘We don’t know what to do, because it was a surprise for us,’” said Vazquez. “This is what we wanted to do. We did it. We played 100 times better than them. They didn’t create almost any chance, and we were I think too good for them, and we showed it.”
The months upon months and pages upon pages of speculation about where this incredible team ranks in MLS' two-plus decades of history? The Reds brought down the curtain – brought down the house, in fact – on that conversation.
“There are no questions about it,” said midfielder Marky Delgado. “We made history, we won three trophies this year. I mean, what else do you want? We’ve answered all these questions with our work on the field, and with the results on the field. There’s no more to be said.”
Marky is right – and if anyone has a depth of perspective on the highs and lows of this league, it’s the man who suffered through some truly lean years as a teenage Homegrown Player with Chivas USA (RIP). But words are my job, just like completing passes, creating turnovers and generally blanketing the midfield is his and Bradley’s, so I’ll try to leave no stone unturned.
1990s D.C. United? That was a great team with exceptional personality, and they set the standard for an infant league. Yet they were not as deep nor as well-rounded as TFC, nor were they tested to the same degree.
The Houston Dynamo team that went back to back in 2006 and 2007? A rugged and extremely close-knit group, but one with only a fraction of the attacking class and tactical fluidity of these Reds.
The Galaxy sides of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane? LA set a new bar for MLS, with three MLS Cups in four years. They were overly dependent on their stars, however, and perennially mailed it in when it came to the US Open Cup.
No, TFC deserve to be labeled as MLS’ GOAT, and with gusto. And as Bradley hinted, it’s quite possible that in the near future they will put some distance between themselves and the rest of the field.
“I’m the first one to say that I think it’s the greatest team ever,” said head coach Greg Vanney, himself a member of some extremely good LA Galaxy sides in the league’s early years. “That will be probably a debate and there will be other people who will say other teams were. But nobody has accomplished what this team has accomplished historically: every championship along the way, set a points record, the quality and the way this group went about their business over the course of the season. And we’re not done yet.
“We still have things in front of us that we want to continue to achieve. So we’re still writing that story. But for now, in terms of seasons, I think we had the greatest season in the history of the league. I don’t think that’s debatable.”
This league’s lifetime has featured such enormous variety in style, quality, and circumstances that comparisons between eras can be a slippery, deeply subjective process. But on Saturday night, in front of their devoted, expectant home support, the Reds added one more set of hard numbers to their hefty library of data, while also passing anyone and everyone’s eye test for aesthetics.
“Now there’s no question,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, scarlet-colored champagne-protection goggles akimbo on his head. “Now there’s no question. We’re the first team to do the treble, most points in a regular season, and all those questions should be silenced at this point. There’s no doubt about it. We went out and proved it tonight, played them off the field from minute one to minute 90. We showed that we’re the best team this year and to me, we answered all the questions.
“We checked all the boxes."