TORONTO – Two and a half days after defeat in the 2016 MLS Cup Final, Toronto FC were still coming to terms with the disappointment.
Tuesday morning was a somber occasion, as the players cleaned out their lockers and spoke to the media for the final time after a whirlwind six weeks that saw TFC surge through the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs all the way to the final, only to fall short at the last hurdle.
“It's tough to come to grips with,” said Jozy Altidore. “When you look at game, the way we played, everything we put into it. It's hard to accept.”
Altidore came the closest to scoring in the 120 minutes of open play, directing a looping header from a Tosaint Ricketts cross on target, only for Stefan Frei, the MLS Cup MVP, to claw it off the line.
“I did [think the header was going in],” admitted Altidore. “I was already wheeling away; I thought for sure.... [Even] if it hits his hand, it would still go in. To see it come back out... disbelief. It was just one of those nights.”
And that it came down to penalty kicks, only adds to the frustration.
“It almost hurts more losing it on penalties,” admitted Drew Moor. “You work 11 months, so hard every day, and it comes down to a coin flip. The way the game went, if anybody was going to win through the run of play, it was going to be us. It's an amazing achievement getting to the final; I'm extremely proud, but it still hurts a couple of days later.”
Sebastian Giovinco, who was forced off the pitch in extra time due to cramps, explained his removal: “I struggled since minute 70 with cramps. By overtime, my first thought was [that] during the playoffs the substitutes had been quite decisive. [It was] time for Ricketts to come in and make a difference, he went close this time as well. I thought that was the best choice for the team.”
But now, the defeat is the past.
“Right after a game like that there's nothing to say,” said TFC captain, Michael Bradley. “In the last day or two, the resounding feeling is that we have to use this to make us even more committed, more determined to get back to this point and do one better, to have our day.
“[In sports], nothing is guaranteed,” he added. "You come in every day, put everything on the line. There's no promises that just because you do that you get something in return; that's not the way it works. But that's also the beauty of sports. This has to be motivation, add fuel to the fire, that it's going to make us better, it's going to make us stronger.”
Said Giovinco: “Everybody has seen how the game ended; nobody is happy about it, but in reality it is part of the growing process. From this tough loss we must build what is going to come.”
TFC and their fans were forced to watch the Seattle Sounders celebrate victory on their pitch; that may rankle for a while still.
“That's why I feel the way I feel,” said Altidore. “For all those people supporting us. The genuine happiness over the past few months. To see the TFC of old return was the best part. You saw the city lift again, the atmospheres at BMO became authentic, what they once were when the team first entered the league. You have to be proud of that progress; you get the feeling that something special is brewing.”
And the last word goes to the captain: “It's difficult [to put into words the last few months],” said Bradley. “The atmosphere for the final was incredible. On a bitter, cold night, every person that walked into the stadium supported us and drove us on. The messages that I've gotten, they're all disappointed, but more than anything, proud of what they were able to be a part of, what they were able to watch.”
“These are the things that you're left with and what makes this city so special. I'm incredibly proud to play here, to be captain, to represent the city,” smiled Bradley. “The way things have gone, I'm only more determined to make sure we all get our day.”