On Tuesday, Toronto FC will play in one of the biggest games in Major League Soccer history. The 2017 treble holders take on Mexico’s Chivas de Guadalajara in the Concacaf Champions League final, with a chance to make it an unprecedented quad.
Liga MX has taken every CCL crown since the federation tournament was reformatted in 2008. As such, the CCL crown remains at the top of the hill untouched by MLS clubs. On the crown rests three jewels.
The first, and most tangible: a trip to the FIFA Club World Cup. Every December, FIFA gathers the continental champions for an seven-team tournament. Toronto or Chivas will play competitive games against Bayern Munich or Boca Juniors or Real Madrid or Liverpool (or possibly Roma, I guess). The winners get to declare themselves the best club team in the world. It’s not as heralded as other tournaments – largely because European teams dominate – but it’s cool and fun and I’d like to watch a team I’m familiar with play those games.
Beyond the enjoyment of watching the Club World Cup, the tournament provides MLS an opportunity to showcase on a world stage. With at least 3,500 miles and five time zones between Europe and the US, it can be tough to get European eyes on MLS games. There are a lot of potential customers and consumers in Europe. More attention leads to more media and advertising and ultimately, dollars and players. Showcasing an MLS club against Real Madrid in a competitive tournament game would aim extra focus onto the league.
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Finally, the CCL offers a barometer of overall growth. Every league, every company, wants to grow. Here's a clear metric for MLS: Beat Liga MX. Mexican and MLS clubs play every year in this competition, and until the 2018 edition, Mexican clubs have dominated the matchup. Though it’s not just about beating Mexico because they're Mexico, either; it’s about beating the teams we didn’t used to consistently beat. Yesterday we lost; today we won. A CCL victory would show defined progress.
Subsequently, Toronto represent something larger than their own club. They act on behalf of the whole of Major League Soccer, Canadian soccer and North American soccer. Many fans around the league – big and small – argue that if you care about any of those things, you should support Toronto.
Yes, b/c @MLS fans are still pioneers and as such are sometimes asked to act for the good of the game rather than themselves. This unique selfless behavior is accepted because of an understanding that they are helping to strengthen/grow something that can provide a better future.— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) April 15, 2018
When MLS teams have made it to the later rounds in the past, including Real Salt Lake (2011) and the Montreal Impact (2015) during the previous MLS runs to the final, we’ve seen an outpouring of support. The MLS vs. Liga MX matchup has created an easy choice, with a clear majority of MLS teams, players and supporters gathering around the torch-bearer: Us vs. Them. It’s made for an exciting experience in support of the league.
To others, though, it’s more complicated. Some find it difficult to support Toronto’s quest – or anyone’s, for that matter.
There appear to be six reasons fans don’t want Toronto to win CCL:
- They are Montreal fans and don’t want Toronto to be happy.
- They are fans of someone other than TFC and don’t want anyone to be happy except their own team.
- They don’t want someone else to win because they want their club to be first.
- They hate Toronto because … they are good? (I actually don’t know why.)
- They are fans of the USMNT and don’t want Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore to be happy.
- Alexi Lalas says MLS fans should support Toronto so his haters do the opposite.
Those are all valid reasons. There isn’t a rule you need to support the league as a whole. But personally? I'll be wearing red on Tuesday – though not because I think the league needs to prove anything.
Growth comes in increments and success ebbs and flows. There’s no such thing as “turning a corner.” Winning CCL won't provide a definitive declaration. An MLS team will win CCL at some point, then a Mexican team will win it again, then an MLS team will be on top again. At some point, it's time to stop stretching and stressing and accept the nature of elite competition.
Simply put, I think it’d be really cool to watch an MLS club against Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in a competitive game. More so, I’m pulling for Toronto for the same reason I want Philadelphia’s Big Five teams to win NCAA tournaments and Concacaf countries to do well in the World Cup even after my preferred teams get knocked out: I feel a connection.
I watch them often; I recognize the players; they come from the same world that made me who I am. There’s something in their success that I feel a part of or connect to. In some strange way, their huge accomplishment also feels like my victory.
No one’s obligated to support Toronto. I'd be weirded out if there weren’t fans of other – and especially rival – MLS teams rooting against them. But I also have no problem admitting that if Toronto wins over the next two weeks, I’m buying champagne for the room.