TORONTO – On the heels of back-to-back MLS Cup final appearances, the 2018 regular season was a bad one for Toronto FC.
A kick away from lifting the Concacaf Champions League trophy at the end of April, when the team returned to MLS play battered, bruised and crestfallen, they just couldn’t get it going. The result was missing the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, unable to defend their crown.
In the season postmortem TFC president Bill Manning set 2019 as the opportunity to prove that such disappointment was a blip in sustained success. A year on, Toronto are set to square off against Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday in a third MLS Cup final in four years (Sunday, 3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TSN or TVAS).
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One win away, Justin Morrow is not surprised with where his team finds themselves.
“No,” he replied sharply when asked if they had exceeded even their loftiest expectations. “No one else seemed to believe in us, everyone else wrote us off, so we’re happy to be where we’re at.”
Jonathan Osorio sees it as proof of both their depth and tenacity.
“For the way the season went, no Jozy [Altidore] and no Omar [Gonzalez] for most of the playoffs, it just show the fight that we have a group and how good we are as a whole,” said the midfielder. “It’s pretty amazing.”
A short period of success, great though it may be, is not a sign of a deeper cultural change. When that achievement is reproducible, however, then it is possible that it becomes permanent – it wasn’t that long ago that TFC were hapless, the butt of jokes.
But it doesn’t just happen. There needs to be a goal, a plan, and then one has to work.
“The goal was always to win the championship,” reminded Greg Vanney on Saturday. “In the years that we’ve been successful [the message was]: Just stick to the process, try to get better every day.
“That process was longer this year because it also included bringing in, recruiting players. You have to stick with it, trust the process and get everybody on the same page, moving forward at the right time. That’s what we’ve been able to do,” he continued. “You always keep the mission and objective in mind. That’s one thing we’ve been able to do this year that maybe last year we didn’t quite as well.”
“We came out of Champions League and we lost track of the process,” he added. “This year it’s been about getting better, approaching one game at a time with the idea of becoming a better version of us through this process. The results have been a product of that, through the work day-to-day.”
Behind the scenes it takes dedication from the players, coaching staff, front office, and ownership. Investment of many kinds.
“It’s such a great sign that we’ve had more success because it shows that the strategy is working and that it is an important strategy within the league,” said Morrow, pointing to the attention soccer is given in Toronto and the financial backing of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. “They really set us up for success and that matters.”
And on the field, it demands victory.
“We have a win-no-matter-what-the-cost-is mentality,” said Osorio. “We’ve done it in different ways in these three MLS Cup runs. Each one has been different. It goes to show the winning culture we’ve built at this club. Our identity has shown.”