TORONTO – When Toronto FC comes to town, they seldom come alone.
The Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs resume on Tuesday with the opening legs of the conference semifinals. The Houston Dynamo hosts Seattle Sounders FC in the West, while in the East TFC travels to Ohio to face Columbus Crew SC.
Crossing the border alongside TFC will be a large, if unknown, contingent of away support.
The official ticket allotment for the away side is a little shy of 300, but estimates of how many other seats have been gobbled up by Toronto fans eager to cheer on their side push that figure somewhere north of 500, perhaps as high as a 1,000.
“Our supporters have been great all season. It doesn't surprise me at all,” said forward Tosaint Ricketts on Wednesday. “To have them in Columbus, pushing us along, is priceless; especially for a game of this magnitude. We're very grateful.”
Before the Montreal Impact joined MLS, the road trip to Columbus was the day every TFC fan circled on their calendar when the schedule was released. It was regular to see large flocks, clad in red, head south to face what was then the closest geographical rival.
That tradition has dwindled a little since Montreal joined the league, but it's is set to be rekindled on Tuesday.
“It means everything,” said Toronto GM Tim Bezbatchenko. “I look back to the fans that came to New York City last year [for the conference semifinal], that was an incredible moment.”
Toronto supporters at Red Bull Arena for the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Oct. 30 / USA Today Sports Images
Bezbatchenko recounted a story of bumping into former Toronto mayor and TFC season ticket holder David Miller and family en route to New York last year.
“He had his scarf on, was bringing his son down, [his father too]; they were so pumped. You could tell it was a family experience,” recalled Bezbatchenko. “Two or three generations together going down for this moment.
“For me, that's what this is about. This is why I'm in the game: you create these moments for the fans that they will remember forever. I swear they were louder than the rest of the stadium. I will never forget that moment. From the national anthem to the end of the game, they helped propel the team to get the result.”
The away day experience is one rather unique to soccer; something to cherish.
Toronto midfielder and self-professed 'football geek' Jonathan Osorio knows fans who make the journey will be rewarded not only with the intensity of a postseason fixture, but the stage of one of the continent's more important venues.
“It's one of the oldest teams in the league. That stadium has been there for so long,” said Osorio. “I like that kind of stuff, like playing in stadiums like that. When they fill up that crowd, it's really good. I've seen the [US] national team play there against Mexico. The atmosphere looks great. Hopefully we can get that for our game.”
Whatever their numbers, coach Greg Vanney is adamant that the support will make a difference for his side.
“No matter what stadium our fans go into you can always hear them. You know they're there; our guys know they're there,” Vanney said. “To know you have a group of fans, not an insignificant number, even though you're away is going to mean a lot to our guys. They'll play for whole city, for the club, for the fans that have made the trek and to set ourselves with the best scenario to come home and finish off the series.”