TORONTO – The 2017 MLS Cup champions celebrated their treble-winning season in style on Monday, parading through the streets of downtown Toronto with thousands of their friends ahead of a massive rally in Nathan Phillips Square at City Hall.
The festivities began in Maple Leaf Square just outside the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where the bronze statues of Legends Row wore celebratory red toques.
Led by a marching band, bagpipes aplenty, the procession began with Toronto FC's float from the Santa Claus Parade, adorned with academy players getting a feel for success. Next came the various supporters' groups, urging their side, as they did on Saturday, to their destination. Then came the two open-top double-decker buses, one carrying the front office and coaching staff, the other the players.
A few turns later the route paraded down Front Street, past Union Station, and up Bay Street through the financial district, where those clad in fancier threads poked their heads out of windows or looked up from a business lunch to take in the spectacle, rushing out to snap pictures and join the party.
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Faces familiar and new, and at least one supporter braved the frigid conditions without the benefit of a shirt.
The Philip F. Anschutz Trophy was hoisted regularly as both buses made the most of their triumphant tour, the jubilation powering all through the icy cold. Welcomed by the TORONTO sign, lit red in their honor, TFC and their fans crammed into the square as Drake's “Started from the Bottom” warmed up the gathering crowd.
Before the speeches commenced, those in attendance were reminded of the goal that got them there: Jozy Altidore's second half-strike against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, eliciting a second roar that echoed that which was drawn forth by the original.
Mayor John Tory took to the podium, went through the usual congratulations before recounting a story about his friendly MLS Cup wager with his Seattle counterpart. Asked how on earth a Peameal sandwich, the essential food of Hogtown, would make its way across the continent, Mayor Tory said he was untroubled by such logistics: “Because I wasn't going to have to.”
Instead, some Starbucks coffee and smoked salmon are now bound for Toronto.
Responding to Michael Bradley and Altidore's proclamation of love for the city, Mayor Tory spoke for those in attendance: “We love you too, boys!”
Larry Tannenbaum, chairman of TFC’s owner MLSE, next addressed the crowd.
“This is a great day for our organization and our fans. You've been behind this club since day one,” he said.
“It was 12 years ago that we were granted a Major League Soccer expansion franchise; we all began to work towards this very day,” continued Tannenbaum. “As we all know, there are always ups and downs on the road to greatness. This club has experienced both over the past 11 seasons. But the vision, ambition, and dream to be champion never waived. The dream was to be the best in MLS, to bring the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy to Toronto. The dream has been fulfilled … how sweet it is.”
That Toronto was celebrating not one, but three trophies was a recurring theme.
“Canadian champions, Supporters' Shield champions, MLS Cup champions,” recounted club president Bill Manning. Turning to the players assembled on the stage, he added, “Hey guys, CONCACAF next?”
TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko was welcomed to the podium by a chant of his last name, to which he joked, “It's a long one.”
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“When we decided to start this project, they said you could paint the city red, that they would come out, there would be an incredible parade and there would be a sea of red everywhere,” said Bezbatchenko. “Today you proved it.
“Our mission was to be great, to be different, to do something no one has ever done before. That's what we did: the treble,” he added. “It's incredible. This is the best city in the entire world. We'll be back next year because we're going to do it again.”
Head coach Greg Vanney offered his thanks and congratulations as well, in particular to the front office for “trusting me as a coach who had never done anything, giving me the keys to this car, the chance to take it on a spin ... and here we are today.
“We started on a mission a couple of years ago, everybody joined to do something special for this city,” said Vanney. “We had a motto: 'They'll remember how you make them feel.' So I just have one question ... How do you feel?”
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That prompted a roar from the raucous crowd.
Added Vanney: “We'll never forget this moment, we're glad to bring it to you. Let's do it again next year.”
Captain Michael Bradley was led to the front of the stage, to speak for the players as he had many times before.
“This has been our dream, our obsession for the last year,” said Bradley. “To be able to lift that trophy, in this city, in front of our fans. To be able to give everybody a day like this is why every one of us are here.”
“To be in a city where the relationship between the team and fans is like it is here, is so special,” he continued. “We don't take it for granted. It's a huge privilege, something we think about every day. Let's enjoy every second of this.”
Bradley then invoked Toronto champions of the past.
“The Blue Jays won [the World Series in 1992]; won again the next year,” said Bradley. “So we're going to enjoy this for a little longer, dust ourselves off and get back to work, so we can be lifting that trophy again next year.”
The players then led the crowd in a rendition of Queen's 'We are the Champions', the standard celebratory hymn of sports teams everywhere. And to cap it all off, Ashtone Morgan, the longest-serving member of the club and Toronto native, led one last Viking Clap to close an epic season.
That was the official close of the ceremonies, but before the crowd began to disperse, Altidore stepped to the mic for an impromptu address to the TFC faithful.
Altidore spared a thought for the defeated Sounders, then threw some shade in the direction of TFC’s rivals the Montreal Impact.
“They're second-best again, and we got the treble, 401 Derby champs!” listed Altidore. “Toronto FC baby, best team ever!
“Everybody here, every single day, goes into the laboratory to cook up some great stuff for you guys,” promised Altidore. “Because you guys, every weekend, come out in numbers and waves. You got The Six on a wave!”
In the hours afterwards, the first snowfall of the looming winter would come, covering the city in a layer of white, the slate wiped clean, the season truly over.
It was one for the ages.