TORONTO — Nothing made sense.
After 120 minutes, 35 shots, and seven goals — a combination that went beyond the permutations of pre-match away goal charts — Toronto FC made it through to their first MLS Cup final. But none of those facts truly conveyed the madness that had led to this point.
“It was a crazy match,” said Tosaint Ricketts, the scorer of Toronto’s fifth and final goal. “The scoreline alone — 5—2 in a conference final — is amazing.”
Amazing it was. If you choose to think about what transpired in purely factual terms, no MLS playoffs series has had more goals than this 401 Derby. While they were at it, Toronto also equaled the league record for the most goals scored off a corner in a game with three.
But the numbers don’t really do justice to what played out at BMO Field, a game that was relentlessly brilliant and ridiculous — often all at once.
Benoit Cheyrou put Toronto ahead for good in the 98th minute with his first touch, after replacing a cramp-addled Sebastian Giovinco. His coach, Greg Vanney, later joked that he had told the Frenchman, “If you can do it on your first touch, it’ll bring me a lot of relief.”
If Vanney had claimed to have seriously made the statement, this would not have been the night to doubt him. Stranger things had already happened.
Ignacio Piatti had scored Montreal’s improbable second goal with a slow, trickling shot through a thicket of defenders. Toronto defender Nick Hagglund had scored in front of the home fans just as their Icelandic clapping reached its crescendo. For good measure, he had jumped higher than any of his teammates had seen him jump before. You couldn’t make these things up, but they had happened.
“There were so many twists and turns along the way—down 0-1; up 2-1; 3-2,” Toronto captain Michael Bradley confessed. “At 3-2, it was on a knife’s edge.”
Montreal manager Mauro Biello had a slightly different interpretation of the night, noting, “We had a fair amount of control at 3—2.”
“Both games were really exciting,” he said. “A lot of goals, a lot of good things there. From a fan’s perspective it’s amazing.”
In Toronto’s case, the players and fans were able to share this joy.
“We all had an idea it could be a special night in terms of atmosphere, emotion,” Bradley added. “In some ways, 10 years of emotion came out in one night.”
In between a decade of soccer futility and two conference final losses in the last year, Toronto plenty of pent up frustration, and when it was released, it was explosive. Fans waited in the pouring rain to watch their team lift its first trophy, silver confetti intermingling with the falling drops. After the final whistle, they rattled every surface in the BMO Field concourse, letting their elation reverberate beyond the stadium.
“Your entire season plays out in 90 minutes and every player is going to err on the side of aggression,” Bradley said. That is definitely what transpired in a game full of borderline tackles and short on foul calls. The players fell and collided and kept running; the crowd yelled. The madness continued.
Toronto’s Cheyrou, a veteran of some of France’s most riotous derbies, struggled to place the evening’s proceedings into their proper context.
“It’s difficult and you can’t compare,” he said in response to how the atmosphere compared to Marseille’s famous Stade Velodrome. “Soccer here is still developing.”
This may prove to be an important development: BMO Field was filled to the brim with 36,000 fans on a weeknight in the rain. Toronto’s players said they had felt the energy building throughout the week. When Bradley dropped his kid off at elementary school, all of his fellow pupils and most of the parents were wearing TFC gear.
“I live downtown,” added Drew Moor. “I walked out my door and I could feel it.”
“It,” in this case, was wild but probably not a 5—2 win. Still, the “it” factor — that ineffable sense that something big and unexpected is happening at BMO Field — matters.
“The excitement of the two games, the amount of goals, I can’t imagine this won’t bring more people into the sport,” Vanney said.
Beyond the historic nature of the occasion for Toronto, it’ll live as an absurdist rarity.
“Outside of Panama, not so much,” Armando Cooper said, while trying to remember if he had ever experienced such a wild fixture. “When it comes to international stage, this is the best I’ve experienced.”
As he stood near a collection of champagne bottles arranged to spell “TFC," Hagglund said Toronto’s Dec. 10 MLS Cup final against the Seattle Sounders “is going to be just as crazy.” (The game airs at 8 pm ET, on FOX and UniMás in the US, and TSN and RDS in Canada). For that to be the case, the final will have to leave a crater where BMO Field once stood, steaming rubble generated by tackles, drums, flares, chants, and goals.
After a night like this, who would be prepared to rule out that or any other possibility?