Toronto FC believed they were in the midst of a turnaround before. Over the past couple of years, the club set their sights high and pushed its payroll even higher. But the results were never any different – no playoff wins. Not one.
But this season, the turnaround wasn’t a mirage built on false hopes or high expectations. Toronto FC are the real deal now, and they proved it with an utterly dominant two-leg win over New York City FC to finish 7-0 on aggregate. It took Toronto a decade to win their first playoff game, but now that they’ve done it, they are looking unstoppable.
To appreciate why this playoffs run is such an important moment for a club that hasn’t actually won any hardware yet, just look back to last year and the seasons that came before. Expectations were high when TFC joined MLS in 2007 and there was a buzz in Toronto about their new professional sports team. Despite the quick fan support, the on-field product was underwhelming, and a string of ill-fitting coaches only seemed to make it worse. Toronto have gone through eight coaches in nine years of existence after nine straight years of missing the playoffs.
But Greg Vanney is onto something this year. After years of disappointment, TFC started to take themselves seriously by throwing money at their deficiencies and bringing in top talent in the last three years, but Vanney has been tasked with trying to make it all work. This season and into this playoffs, he’s done that.
Part why this Toronto team looks so good is that their best players are playing really, really well. Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore are in as good of form as they’ve ever been, and each of them scored Sunday in Toronto’s 5-0 second-leg rout of NYCFC. To win big games, big players need to step up and both of these strikers have.
With Giovinco, it’s been his magic touch in finishing and his increasingly relentless work ethic. With Altidore, it’s been an evolution of his game that sees him doing more work off the ball than he has ever done before to find pockets of space or to backtrack and defend. Combine that with the chemistry the pair has fine-tuned over the past two seasons and you have the best attacking duo in all of MLS.
But for Toronto to finally break a curse that saw them without a playoff run since the club’s inception in 2007, it had to be a collective team effort. To be sure, the Toronto roster is loaded with talent as players like Giovinco, Altidore and Michael Bradley are some of the best at what they do in the entire league. But the difference had to be in putting it altogether and not expecting one or two high-priced stars would carry the team.
Summer signing Tosaint Ricketts scored one of the goals in the first leg against NYCFC last weekend. When Altidore spent a chunk of the season injured, youngster Jordan Hamilton took over and did a good enough job that some wondered if Altidore should bump him back to the bench. Jonathan Osorio, a four-year TFC veteran, added one to TFC’s tally on Sunday.
Offseason acquisitions like Will Johnson and Drew Moor added some veteran leadership and depth, but more importantly they added more defensive toughness. For all the goal-scoring firepower Toronto had even just last year with Giovinco and Altidore, their defense was far too leaky. Last season through 34 games, they conceded 58 goals – the same number of goals they scored. But they’ve been much stouter this season, conceding just 39 goals, tied for the second-lowest in the league.
As soon as the postseason hit, every game that Toronto has played has been their biggest one ever. And it’s not hype – Toronto have never experienced any sort of tangible success before and they’ve been entering uncharted territory this season. Now, they are through to the Eastern Conference finals and it means everything for a club that has desperately wanted to become a serious contender.
After years of being the league laughingstock, even as the club’s ambitions started to grow sharply over the past few years, Toronto FC are finally putting everything together. Toronto are finally the real deal, not hopes and expectations, and the MLS Cup is well within reach.