2016 MLS Cup - Sad Toronto FC fan
USA Today Sports

A city energized by MLS Cup offers little solace in wake of Toronto FC loss

TORONTO — Sucker-punched, the only voice that could be heard in the crowd was the one still on the clock.

“There are some positives,” the man with the microphone at the beer stand by BMO Field’s main gate said. “When’s the last time a team from Toronto went this far?”

He wasn’t wrong; a major league Toronto men’s team had last made a final in 1993. But in the minutes after Toronto FC lost the MLS Cup to the Seattle Sounders on penalty kicks, his proclamation offered scant solace. Fans in red scarves, hats, jackets — red anything they could find, really — forlornly trundled towards the exit. Above them, in the uppermost tier of the stands, the Seattle fans in green were still cheering on their champions.

Seattle’s fans had chanted their hearts out all night, but this was the first time they could be heard from across the ground. For the duration of the match — right up until that final Roman Torres kick that won Seattle’s maiden title — BMO Field’s record crowd of 36,045 had vocally backed the home team.

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“Nothing is more powerful than a club whose time had come,” read the tifo raised at the south end of BMO Field before kickoff. With the benefit of hindsight, Toronto’s fans might have done well to use a phrase that couldn’t just as easily apply to Seattle. But throughout this MLS Cup week, there was a palpable belief that Toronto’s time really had come. As the final had grown closer, more TFC paraphernalia sprouted around the city, more stickers appeared on buses, more posters appeared on unadorned surfaces. TFC support was the only thing that could grow in an otherwise miserably cold week.

They yelled from kickoff and never really stopped. Chants of TFC — or, in the case of the many contested calls during this hectic match, profanities that needn’t be reproduced here — rarely relented. The bleachers of BMO Field rattled with the fans’ stamping feet. The rattling grew louder throughout the night as the weather turned feet into ice cubes and then bricks. It kept going, and then it was all over. Silence.

There were isolated chants in the concourse as the hometown fans sleepwalked out. “Toronto ‘til I die,” three young men shouted as they walked away from the south end of the stadium. Another tried to start a round of: “TFC! TFC! TFC!” While these chants had elicited responses throughout the match, here they just hung in the air. TFC-kitted fans quietly walked past the isolated chanters, as if in shock or absorbed in their own thoughts.

“Huge, huge disappointment. It’s unbelievable. I’m still in disbelief,” said Brian Bettencourt as he loitered in the BMO field concourse. “I can’t believe we lost the game in a shootout penalty; it’s the worst way to lose a game.”

Toronto fans continued to quietly shuffle out; the solitary section of Seattle supporters continued to cheer.

“They went into the playoffs pretty strong. Everything was going their way. It was like they were meant to win this and I don’t know what happened,” Bettencourt added. “Seattle just played their game and they just played a great defensive game. We dominated the game.”

As if to add insult to injury, a round of celebratory fireworks went off just as Bettencourt discussed Toronto FC’s dominance. TFC had held Seattle without a shot on goal for 120 minutes, and yet here he was stunned in the concourse while the Seattle fans in the stadium enjoyed the display.

A few minutes later, a subdued Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney reflected on similar themes.

“I think it was a hard-fought game by two teams that didn’t want to give an inch,” he said. “We had a lot of good looks and a lot of half chances — a lot of opportunities. We just couldn’t get it on frame or one little window or one pass away.”

Like many of the fans leaving the Exhibition grounds like zombies, Vanney admitted to feeling a bit numb. There was pent up energy and emotions he had yet to release. He could, however, see a few positives in all the gloom.

“I think we’ve energized the city,” he added. “There’s a genuine excitement as to how this team goes about doing things and how they play.”

Vanney continued: “We've always said as a group that if you get to people’s emotions and you make them feel good which is usually what we’ve done, then they’ll come back and get behind you. I think the sport will grow from here.

All of that is true. MLS Cup produced a great week for soccer in Toronto, a celebration of a shared passion, and a chance for more of the city to build a bond with this team. None of those truths, however, felt particularly compelling in that moment. Toronto FC had lost, and while better days may lie ahead, the Sunday that was dawning would not be one of them.