OK. First things first.
I was wrong. Sort of.
Back in September, I predicted that Toronto FC would finish atop the East, thereby earning home field advantage through the conference playoffs. Didn't happen. Should have, but didn't. TFC finished third, behind the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC.
On the other hand, anyone see those teams in the conference finals? Nope. It's down to the Reds and the Montreal Impact, with Toronto FC holding ... wait for it ... home field advantage in the two-legged series that starts this weekend.
Oh, and ESPN's Soccer Power Index ranks them as the favorites to win MLS Cup -- something no Canadian team has done yet since Toronto broke the border barrier and joined the league in 2007.
But enough "I (sort of) told you so." Let's get to the question of "why."
Why this team? Why this year? Let's look at a few reasons.
1. It's a natural progression.
Last year's team made the MLS playoffs for the first time ever. Not coincidentally,the Designated Player trio of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco played together for the first time in 2015, Altidore arriving from Sunderland and Giovinco from Juventus to join the General at BMO Field.
For all the money that TFC had thrown at disappointing DPs before (TRIGGER WARNING: Mista, Eric Hassli, Gilberto), to have all three of 2015's top earners not only perform well individually, but as parts of a cohesive whole, was refreshing. Giovinco won the Golden Boot with 22 goals, Altidore had another 13, and Bradley added five goals and six assists to his commanding presence in the midfield.
With all three back this year, and that year of getting to know each other under their belts, how could TFC not improve on that first taste of MLS success?
2. Not always available, but always productive when they are
Let's stick with the DP trio for now. All three of them have had injury issues this year -- Bradley with a knee, Altidore with a (what else?) hamstring, the Atomic Ant with a collection of banged-up leg muscles. But when manager Greg Vanney has been able to call on them, they've answered.
Giovinco was in the hunt for a second straight scoring title until he was forced to sit out the stretch run, but still finished with 17 goals and 15 assists in 28 appearances. Altidore made just 25 regular-season appearances, seven of those off the bench, but still wound up with 10 goals -- and his five assists were his most ever in MLS. Bradley's goal production dropped to one, but he recorded five assists and continued to prove himself MLS' best at linking the back line and the attacking corps.
With all three healthy in the postseason? You already know the numbers. In three playoff matches, Giovinco has four goals and three assists. Altidore has three and two. Bradley hasn't missed a minute, and he's been a recovery machine with 35 in three games as TFC have outscored the opposition 8-1.
That NYCFC team that finished second in the East? Obliterated 7-0 on aggregate.
3. It's not just three
Look at the last four MLS Cup winners -- by which I mean the four teams that have won the last six MLS Cups.
Three of them -- Colorado in 2010, Sporting Kansas City in 2013 and Portland last year -- were strong, synergistic ensembles who caught lightning in a bottle and got some breaks (frequently involving woodwork) along the way.
The other was the LA Galaxy, who combined star power with solid support. After all, big names only get you so far if there are weak links all over the rest of the pitch. (Lookin' at you, Thierry Henry/Rafa Marquez/Tim Cahill incarnations of the New York Red Bulls.)
Point being, if you want stars above the crest, you'd better have some support for the ones on the pitch.
Justin Morrow has five goals and four assists. Jonathan Osorio and Will Johnson rang up five assists each during the regular season. And Morrow anchors a defense that conceded just 39 regular-season goals, making the Reds the East's stingiest team. Only Colorado gave up fewer (32), and the Galaxy also conceded 39 times.
So ... MLS Cup's a lock, right?
Nope. Nothing in this league is. You know that. Montreal's on a mission. Seattle's on a tear. And Colorado? Even without injured 'keeper Tim Howard, they still have a legitimate shot to complete their worst-to-first story -- without changing coaches..
Besides, there's no "sort of" to fall back on if I'm wrong.