TORONTO – Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Toronto FC.
Already firmly in the conversation as the best club in MLS history thanks to the unforgettable treble-winning and record-breaking season in 2017, TFC have a chance to enter a brand new category over the next week.
On Tuesday night at BMO Field, the 2018 Concacaf Champions League final gets underway with the first of a two-legged series vs. Chivas de Guadalajara (8:15 pm ET | TSN2 in Canada; UDN, go90.com in US).
Toronto is the third MLS side to reach this final stage of the competition, alongside Real Salt Lake in 2011 and the Montreal Impact in 2015, but none before have cleared the final hurdle and took home the championship.
Having qualified for the tournament after successive Canadian Championships, when one was not good enough, the quest for Concacaf glory kicked off in February against the Colorado Rapids. But in truth, it was a journey that began long before that.
There is no firm start date.
Was it in 2013 when Tim Bezbatchenko was brought in as general manager? Was it the "Bloody Big Deal" that saw Michael Bradley join the club while Jermain Defoe nabbed the headlines the following season? Was it when Greg Vanney took the reins towards the end of that 2014 campaign? Or any of the numerous signposts along the way, including the acquisitions of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco?
Everyone will have their opinion on the pivotal moment, but one fact cannot be denied.
“We've evolved a lot,” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio, who, in his sixth season with TFC, is one of the club’s longest-tenured players.
The 2015 campaign saw the side earn their first-ever playoff berth, only to bow out just as the postseason got underway. Back the next year, an MLS Cup final awaited, but it too would end in disappointment. All the while, greatness percolated.
“In 2016 we had a really good team,” recalled Osorio. “But we had to learn, had to experience situations that we had not before as a team. Those experiences have led us to be ready for these finals.
“At times we didn't get it done, but we learned what we needed to do,” he continued. “And now that we have that experience, we go into these finals with a lot more confidence. We know that we're able to accomplish our goals.”
Toronto have certainly had an interesting journey to the top. On top of their playoff drought, they never even posted a winning record from their expansion season in 2007 through 2014, before transforming from laughingstock to juggernaut.
“This has been a process,” explained head coach Greg Vanney after seeing out a 4-2 aggregate win in the semifinals over Club America. “In order to become a great team, a team that can win, you have to go through a lot of hurdles; sacrifices. You have to learn a lot of lessons, lose sometimes, grow together as a team. We've done that.
“We lost a championship two years ago, came back and won it. We've had some tough moments and we've grown from those.”
And now, with the CCL final about to kick off, immortality lies ahead.
“An MLS club hasn't won this competition since the change in the format, since it became the Champions League,” Osorio said. “To be the first to do that would be huge.”
Osorio, tied with Giovinco as the top scorer remaining in the competition with three goals, has been an instrumental part of this tale, scoring in each of the three series to this point.
“We've very proud to be where we are and to come as far as we have,” Osorio said. “The club has come a long way. To see that change, be part of that, for me personally, it's huge. To be part of a team that is the first to do so many things ... it's amazing.”
“It's something that I'm sure later on in my career, I'll be even more proud [about]. Right now, you're enjoying it, but taking it day by day and focusing on what's ahead: the first leg of the Concacaf final.”