We’ve now had a week to digest the 2018 Concacaf Champions League final. Last Wednesday, Toronto FC came close to securing Major League Soccer’s first CCL crown but ultimately fell in penalties. In the moment, it didn’t feel right to consider what it meant for Toronto. Sometimes moments deserve more than analysis; they are meant to be felt and appreciated. Toronto’s run through CCL was fantastic. Beating Tigres and Club America and then the final — the deficit, the comeback, the penalties, the disappointment — was something to be enjoyed.
A week later, however, there are questions to consider. The run is over; last year is over; with it, the concept of being the “greatest single-season team ever” is officially over for Toronto FC. Without taking anything away from the rare glimpse of greatness, it’s time to look forward.
There are questions that need to be asked about Toronto FC moving ahead in 2018.
1) What’s Michael Bradley’s next act?
Michael Bradley is one of the best players that American soccer has ever produced. He has achieved as much as almost anyone else who has played for the country. He was phenomenal in both the MLS Cup and CCL runs. He was the most important player on the field in the victories over Tigres and Club America. Plus, he also seems to be an excellent citizen. He’s never gotten in trouble with the law or shown up on TMZ.
Yet, with all that said, he still receives as much vitriol as any other American player of his generation.
After the disappointment in World Cup qualifying, Toronto FC’s season offered Bradley a chance to gain some redemption. Toronto had never won an MLS Cup; Bradley could still accomplish something unique and meaningful. Beyond that, no MLS team had ever won Concacaf Champions League since the confederation tournament was reformatted in 2008. It was a chance to put a good “Never Been Done” next to the bad one.
There were a set of definable, worthwhile goals ahead of him. But those have passed .
Bradley doesn’t have any obvious mountains on the horizon: The next World Cup cycle starts in two years; Does another MLS Cup mean that much to him? Do USMNT fans care about Copa America? Would winning CCL next year make up for losing this year?
What does Michael Bradley do next to make a statement to America?
I pull for Bradley. He deserves more credit than he gets. He deserves to be remembered as one of the greats.
The burden of proof is presently on Bradley. It’s every artist’s imperative to continuously redefine himself. I suspect – hope – that Bradley has another act in him. I’m just not sure what it will be.
2) How does Toronto rebound as a team?
Everything had been building toward the 2018 CCL final. No MLS team had ever won, and Toronto had their chance to cement their names in history. It was a shot at immortality!
On Friday, Toronto play the Philadelphia Union in Week 10.
Professional players get paid to perform at a certain level every day. To a certain extent, they became professionals while so many others failed because they have that specific ability. At the same time, once you’ve experienced such a big moment, nothing else feels the same. It's all a letdown. How do you get excited again?
It’s not just the emotional toll, either. Toronto has already played eight playoff-intensity games, including four at altitude, plus three round-trip flights from Toronto to Mexico. The CCL didn’t just take an emotional charge but a physical one, as well.
Toronto won the 2017 treble largely because of their consistency. Not only do they have incredible talent, but they show up with the same level of intensity and focus every night.
Will that be the same in 2018? Can it be the same in 2018?
3) What happens with Giovinco?
Sebastian Giovinco has been unreal since coming to MLS. He’s played in 90 regular-season games and has amounted 94 total goals and assists. He’s been crucial – a word that still feels reductive – to Toronto’s success over recent seasons. But the Atomic Ant turns 32 before next season, the final year of his contract.
Giovinco has already stated that he hopes to get a new contract but that Toronto have rebuffed early efforts. Yes, Toronto has him under contract for two more full seasons, but one can’t blame Giovinco for thinking ahead. It could be his last contract. He has a lot at stake.
Toronto have two questions on their hands:
- Can Seba still be just as good at ages 31 and 32?
It feels silly to ask since Giovinco has been amazing recently, but it’s important to remember that players are often amazing until they aren’t, and you can either part with them early or late, but it’s almost never possible to do it at just the right time. Giovinco’s a player who relies on his pace and movement and age 30 often marks a hilltop year for attacking players. It’s not to say Giovinco will start to be bad all of a sudden, but will he still be dominant? Will he be worth $7 million a year again?
- Will contract negotiations influence his focus on the field?
Giovinco has been an excellent professional since arriving in Toronto, but contract talks always muddy the waters. Soccer is fun, but professional soccer is a job. Money always makes things weird. Once you tell a player you won’t build bridges over the Ocean for him, it creates an awkward situation. Giovinco recently told The Toronto Sun, "For them it's not a problem, for me it's starting to be a problem … I already said I want to stay here forever … If not, I have to think about other options." If I’m Toronto, I wouldn’t feel great about hearing my best attacker say ‘It’s starting to be a problem.’”
Giovinco has been one of the best players in MLS over the last four seasons. Would Toronto be the same team without him? It may not turn into an issue at all this year. Or it could.
Toronto would rather not focus on the the future yet – their present is so nice – but they might not have a choice. The questions are coming, if they haven't already arrived.