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By Luca LaPorta (@Luca_LaPorta)
Living about an hour away from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, I grew up supporting the local football team, Toronto FC. I know what you’re going to say, who cares about the MLS? Well, besides my beloved AC Milan, this was a team that was on the television weekly, and affordable to go watch live.
Toronto FC joined the MLS 12 years ago, and has never been good enough to qualify for the playoffs until last year. That run came to a halt early, losing to the rival Montreal Impact 3-0 in the 1st round. Then came this season. With the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, all players with valid European experiences, this year had some promise and potential – us fans were desperate for the long-awaited success.
The playoffs came around, and TFC found themselves again in the 1st round, this time at B.M.O Field, the first home playoff match ever in the 6ix. A 7-0 aggregate crushing of New York City FC sent the Reds to the conference final to face, guess whom, the Montreal Impact. After a 3-2 loss away to Montreal in the 1st leg, the pressure was looming. It took 2 late goals in extra time to send TFC to their first ever MLS Cup Final, at BMO Field: the cherry on top.
As a life-long Toronto FC fan, the feeling was indescribable. Right after the final whistle in the Conference Final, my buddies and I had only one thing on our mind: tickets. Needless to say, we ended up doing it. No matter how much they were going to cost, I, together with five mates, was on my way to the final. Our opponent: the Seattle Sounders, the top team coming out of the West.
Matchday. Taking the train to the big city, I felt the buzz, with nothing but the color red around me. On the train, as much as six hours before the warm-ups, we were already chanting and preparing for the big game. It was an atmosphere like no other.
Arriving in the area of the stadium, the excitement completely overcame the otherwise-devastating -20 degrees. The feeling was surreal: we were there, and TFC had a chance for glory.
The march to the stadium rolled around, and of course, we joined in. It was a site to see. Thousands, clogging up the streets, all screaming and hollering together. Along the lines of chants such as “Ohhh Danny Dichio” and “Oh When The Reds”, we marched forth like an army. Fireworks and flares from the diehards lit the sky. We, of course, were singing along at the top of our lungs. Before we knew it, it was time for kick-off.
BMO Field, under the lights, on a Saturday night. It didn’t get much better than that. My friends alongside, we got to our seats: a perfect view, near the pitch and in the heart of the stadium.
Above, the view from our seats.
It didn’t matter how freezing cold it was, just feeling the intensity of the fans sitting around us tuned it out. At the sound of “GIOVINCO!”, during the announcement of the starting line-ups, I realised that we were actually there, wearing red, supporting our hometown team, after more than ten years of suffering.
The crowd was electric. The tifo displayed by the “Red Patch Boys” in the south end right before the referee’s whistle was truly magical. “Nothing is more powerful than a club whose time has come” the banner read – the spirit of that evening could’ve not been summed up better.
Nerves started to kick in, and the match finally started. Immediately, it was an open match to say the least, with both teams trading chances back and forth. Butterflies, to use a euphemism, every time the Sounders came close to our box.
Above, the Toronto boys during the team picture. Behind them, the South End [Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports]
After dominating the full 90 minutes plus extra time, failing to capitalise on our scoring chances, it all came down to the infamous penalty shootout – what else? One inch away from glory, a crossbar ended our dream. It’s hard to put into words what the feeling was when the Sounder player slotted the winning penalty into the back of the net. You could feel the hearts of the entire Reds supporters drop at that moment.
An ending of this kind, after such a build-up, has the potential to ruin the whole story. I know that. But there is something that is by far more important than the end result, than a missed penalty, than silverware. What mattered, for me and for all Toronto fans, was the emotion resulting from the possibility to witness our team competing in the most prestigious North American title – our redemption after years spent on the sidelines.
All rights for the featured image are reserved to Toronto FC (http://www.torontofc.ca/post/2016/01/07/toronto-fc-releases-2016-mls-regular-season-schedule)