The show is over. With memories of a packed and rowdy Rogers Centre still fresh in the memory, Toronto FC must now focus on the reality of having to beat the defending MLS Cup and Supporter’s Shield champions, David, Landon and Robbie’s LA Galaxy, at home to advance in the CONCACAF Champions League.
It’s a daunting task. Based on TFC’s flawed history it’s just about impossible. When you factor in LA’s talent and apparent drive to win the CCL, and then take away the beer-throwing 12th man last Wednesday provided, you would be foolish to think that the Reds can advance to the next stage.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Although there were 47,500 watching in person last week with the entire downtown core painted red, there will undoubtedly be far less paying attention tonight. Just 7,500—if the Galaxy are lucky—will be in attendance tonight, with maybe 50 Toronto fans. Outside of a couple dedicated pubs, you won’t see TFC red in downtown T.O. and the 10 p.m. kickoff means many more casual observers will be in bed by the time the result is known.
A loss tonight won’t supersede any positives that were gained by last Wednesday. Additionally, from a PR standpoint, there is nothing further that can be gained for TFC by advancing in the competition.
The Reds were a club that desperately needed something to re-connect to its fan base. Fed up by losses, high ticket prices, losing badly, excessive beer prices, not winning, and overpriced concessions there was a real risk many former diehard fans would give it all up.
The never-ending party of 2007 had given way to the endless nightmare of 2011. Complicating things further was the fact that the fun-loving, single 27-year-old who filled the stands at BMO Field in that first season (and his or her belly with the above mentioned excessively priced beer) is now an under-slept, married 33-year-old with a 2-year-old kid and another on its way. Saturdays are no longer TFC’s by default. The club has to earn his or her attention.
Last week it did. Walking into Rogers Centre was a shock to the system of anyone that had spent any time at BMO Field over the last couple years. Gone was the apathy that characterized most of 2011 and there was no evidence of the anger of 2010. Instead there was excitement and faith.
Professional sport survives on excitement and faith. You want to suspend belief and live in a world of possible reflected glory when at a sporting event. It had been a long time since that was the case for TFC, but it was last week.
TFC was fun again. It was fun in the stands and it was fun to watch on the field. That is the prevailing memory that most of the 47,500 that were at the former SkyDome will take away. The previously mentioned 33-year-old will be looking to book the babysitter a few more times this year and their fun loving, 27-year-old buddy who was at their first game Wednesday is busy looking for tickets so they can replicate the experience.
On the pitch, the tie with the Galaxy represented an opportunity for TFC to advance to the semi-finals of an event some in Toronto still struggle to understand. There they will likely play a Mexican team many have never heard of. That game will be played at BMO Field, in the cold, with less than 2-weeks to sell the tickets. Forget 47,500, the Reds would be lucky to get more than 20,000 out in those circumstances.
For the TFC fan that has lived and mostly died with this club for five losing seasons, the potential of being in the final four of the North American championships would be a dream too surreal to have even contemplated. To that fan, tonight’s game is the most important the club has ever played.
For many other fans, and possibly for the club’s front office, last Wednesday cannot and will not be surpassed. That’s understandable. After all, tournaments happen all the time. If you fail in one, there will be another to focus on soon enough. However, it is excessively rare that a club gets a second chance to make a first impression.
And that’s exactly what Toronto got on Wednesday.