TORONTO – Two down, one more to go.
Toronto FC will be presented with the Supporters' Shield in a pre-match ceremony at BMO Field on Sunday prior to facing the Montreal Impact.
Having clinched the Shield – awarded to the top regular-season team in MLS – against the New York Red Bulls on September 30th, it has made the long trip from Dallas to Toronto ahead of Sunday's match (5 pm ET | TSN1/4, TVA Sports in Canada, MLS LIVE in US).
Presented, managed, and maintained by the Independent Supporters Council (ISC), a confederation of groups in North America, the Shield passes from the fanbase of one year's winner to the next.
“It's a pretty organic process,” said Phil Tobin, President of the Red Patch Boys (RPB), one of the ISC-affiliated groups in Toronto, describing how the Supporters' Shield is making its way from 2016 winners FC Dallas to this year's champs.
“[We were] looking at the season, thinking, 'wow, we have a chance at it,’” he recalled in reference to TFC’s chances. “As it became almost a mathematical certainty, the head of the Dallas supporters' group [the Dallas Beer Guardians], Bailey Brown, reached out to me on Facebook and said, 'Look, we've got to get you this shield. I want to bring it up.’
“She mentioned [the Montreal game] in particular, and I said [it] would be perfect,” continued Tobin. “Get to see a rivalry game. She offered a couple times, if there was going to be a game where we clinched it earlier, to reschedule. Nothing but pleasantries all around to get it up to us. I'm really excited.”
Tobin said himself will bring it to the stadium, while the Red Patch Boys, Kings in the North and the other ISC members in Toronto will care for the hardware during its stay in the city, adding that he has been talking with TFC about it as well. Tobin is the signatory on the shield though, so as he said, “It's my primary responsibility.”
Curiously, despite this being TFC's first Supporters’ Shield win, it will not be the first time the shield has been in Toronto. In fact, in a way it's coming home.
“This rendition of it is one that RPB helped imagine, push through the ISC, and then get designed. Connie Zimmer imagined the idea, 'Flatpicker,' Kyle Stewart, one of our board members, designed it, and then Afra [Frank Bordieri], one of our members, actually made it,” explained Tobin. “The whole thing is dreamed of, designed and produced out of our group, in Toronto.”
“It's a bizarre homecoming,” Tobin added with a laugh. “Full credit to Sam Pierron and everybody involved in the first Shield. We've incorporated the original design in there as an homage to its origins.”
Though exact details of the ceremony are a closely-guarded secret, Tobin did admit that he has asked TFC for “all [supporters] groups to have a representative” on the field.
“At that point, it's not about the ISC, ourselves, or Kings,” he said. “It's about the contribution of all the support and all the fans in the stadium. Everyone has a key role in this and I want to make sure that everybody gets a chance [to be involved]. That's something, in the offseason, we'll be looking to the other groups to do – sharing and promotion of it.”
Tobin did reveal that Reds captain Michael Bradley would be involved in the proceedings.
“In the past, it's been an organic thing where the Shield goes from the crowd to the team,” explained Tobin. “But it's also been a last-minute clinching event that precipitates that. This will be a bit more of a formal presentation, but I know there's a chance that Michael hands it back off to the crowd.”
Will Toronto be able to stock their trophy cabinet with a replica? That is against the rules.
“The ISC strictly forbids replication. However, as long as the imagery is not used in a for-profit situation, there is a little bit of leeway there,” said Tobin. “I have to talk with them further about exactly where the black and white is, and the gray.”
“It's fantastic that we can promote the Shield,” added Tobin. “I do agree with the guidelines [against] profiteering. Any way that we can further entrench this trophy and its significance into MLS and the fan base, the better. I want to see people proud of the fact that we won the league – it's a real achievement.”
Tobin does agree that something permanent to fill the club’s cabinet would be nice.
“You've got to have something to reflect the season that was,” he said.
TFC fans are invited to be at the stadium early on Sunday – ideally in their seats by 4:30 pm local time – to partake in the ceremony. Fans, players and staff alike are excited to welcome the Supporters' Shield back to Toronto.
“The passing of the shield to our fans will be a big moment for the guys,” said head coach Greg Vanney on Wednesday. “After the last game there was a celebration, mostly outside with the fans. In the room, you could tell guys were happy, but there's one more to go.”
The fact that it will be celebrated against archrivals Montreal has added a certain sweetness to the occasion.
“It's coincidental that Montreal is the opponent when the handover happens,” said Vanney. “That's an interesting dynamic. I'm sure our fans will enjoy it, appreciate it. How rivalries go, it will be a feather in the cap of the TFC fans to accept it on that day. That's natural, that's the beauty of rivalry.”
Coincidence to some, serendipity to others.
Local product Raheem Edwards called it “a little bonus, rubbing salt in [the Impact’s] wounds,” adding, “We'll celebrate, but when game time comes, we're focused.”
“It's great,” he said. “It's more of a professional rivalry for us – I have friends on that team, we joke around, saying their vacation started already, asking if the guard of honor was in their minds.”