Where to start?
They did it. Toronto FC, in the ninth year of their existence, qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs Wednesday night. Sure, it was overshadowed by the most captivating Toronto baseball game in some 22 years, but I am here to tell you that the TFC milestone deserves your attention too.
I had made my way to the game with very low expectations. Many folks attended the game disguised as empty seats. New York Red Bulls (NYRB) had thumped Toronto back in August. TFC victories since then had all come against struggling teams. I could not think of the last time Toronto had bested a team higher than them in the standings.
Add in the fact that Bradley, Giovinco and Altidore had all played for their national teams over the weekend. Cheering for TFC to gain a point from a draw vs. NYRB felt like a foolish long shot. I kept thinking about the worst case scenario - should TFC lose their final 3 games and both Montreal and Orlando win their final two, TFC could miss the playoffs once again. This is a team that has the negative outcome historically as the default position.
Then two things kicked into gear; TFC played so well* in the first half that the missing star players seemed almost not missed at all and Seba Giovinco.
Giovinco was bundled up and on the substitute's bench. He played for his national team, Italy, over the weekend and had arrived back in Toronto only hours before the New York game. He came on as a sub, roughly twenty minutes to play. Just by warming up on the sidelines he electrified the place. He ran onto the field to a standing ovation. Everyone knew that he had good reasons to be resting and watching from the stands (or even sleeping at home). This was a level of Hollywood that TFC fans rarely witness.
You know by now that he scored the goal that turned out to be both the game winner and therefore the playoff berth clincher.
Giovinco's goal was a masterpiece. It had layers galore. His first burst into the clear, where he seemed to ride the two defending Red Bulls the way a surfer takes a small wave, was worthy of a chuckle. The second move, where he seemed to be ready to shoot and then glided to his left leaving two more Red Bulls sliding off as if they were salt and pepper shakers sliding off a table, was worthy of a gasp. Then he smoothly took his shot and it was both power and beauty as it found the far side of the goal. I think the sound that came out of me was a combo of yelp and cheer.
I dare say that not since Danny Dichio scoring in the last game of 07, that long range dipper against New England, has this ground witnessed such a moment. You felt elation and wonder mixed together.
"Did that just happen?", part of your brain is asking.
"Oh man, you just witnessed something incredible!" another brain segment is chiming in. TFC are about to beat the New York Red Bulls and with Giovinco the possibilities for what lies ahead are mind boggling.
However, the Dichio goal was a consolation. It put a smile on your face and completed the season of football's fairy tale arrival in Toronto.
Seba's goal is so much more than the old Dichio delight. Seba's was the game winner and the playoff clincher. It was against one of the best teams in the league, it even made the statement that Toronto could be in a position to claim that crown. It was also a personal statement, the crowd had been chanting MVP for Giovinco all evening. How could anyone witness last night's game and not see that Seba Giovinco combined incredible skill with an equally incredible sense of occasion. Toronto FC are in the MLS Cup playoffs and Giovinco put them there. MVP 2015.
Somebody in the TFC front office had it right on the media side. Minutes into the post game celebrations of this historic victory a video of season highlights was put on the big screen and the song "At Last" boomed around the stadium. It captured the moment in a way that few TFC flourishes do. All those frustrations, all those squandered chances, all those times sitting in my seat and wondering just how much suffering could one team inflict.
Yes, through thin, thin and at last thick, Toronto FC is my team. I was in my section for game one and have seen the players come and go. The managers arrive and fall and the winds blow hard and lonely over the south stand. "At Last" was suitably wistful for the other night, but great things are possible. So put aside wistful and thump Columbus. See you then.
* Sorry. Got so carried up with Giovinco and TFC reach the promised land narrative that I neglected game analysis.
This was not the first night that I have thought Jackson at right back is a positive move for TFC. He had a superb game. Herculez Gomez was strong, more for his staying positionally aware than scoring threats. His goal was a classic case of taking advantage NYRB deep in their own end. Cheyrou and Warner patrolled the midfield with authority. Ashtone Morgan as a right winger had been tried before. It may have a future, though it does offer more defensive cover than precise attack. I worry about the extent of Perquis' injury. He has put the " reckless mistake" portion of his game away and looked strong before he went down. Osorio continues to show himself as a key aspect of TFC's success.