By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 2, 2016) US Soccer Players – Before Wednesday night, before Benoit Cheyrou of all people struck for the Eastern Conference championship winning header in extra time at BMO Field against the rival Montreal Impact, the most important goal ever scored in the history of Toronto FC was the first goal ever scored in the history of Toronto FC.
Yeah, TFC made the playoffs last year, so you could argue that the goals down the stretch of the season that helped them secure a place in the knockout round were “big.” There’s also all of the goals they put up in the knockout round game against Philadelphia, in the conference semifinals against NYCFC, and in the first-leg of the conference final at the Stade Olympique in Montreal. Maybe include a Canadian Championship goal or two.
All big goals, but at best they set a stage or represent marginal achievement. Cheyrou’s goal, the goal that put TFC into the MLS Cup final for the first time in their previously tortured existence, felt like a truly cathartic moment for a team whose time in MLS is best measured in dog years. It certainly felt longer than nine seasons for the Toronto faithful who have been around since the beginning.
And oh, that beginning. Toronto FC fans had to wait then, too, since the new club played 584 minutes before they put the ball in the back of the net. English journeyman Danny Dichio did the honors in the first game they won. In the spontaneity of the moment, the fans at BMO Field on that May day launched thousands of giveaway seat cushions onto the field. Little did those fans know that for years that shower of foam-filled squares of plastic would be the signature image of the their club.
The wait for a goal might have presaged their wider struggles, but no one could have foreseen year after year of failure of the type Toronto FC managed to achieve. The club didn’t just miss the playoffs every season from 2007 to 2014, they often did so in spectacular fashion. The head coaching position was a revolving door. The club’s ownership couldn’t find find a front office that could reach basic levels of competence, much less put together a winner. In a league where parity ensures that even poorly run teams never go more than a few years without a playoff berth, Toronto FC set new standards for ineptitude.
If you ask TFC fans, they’d likely say the change began with the hiring of Tim Bezbatchenko as general manager in 2013. Bezbatchenko was a lawyer working on player contracts in the league’s New York headquarters prior to moving to Toronto. That meant he had an understanding of Major League Soccer’s strange roster and salary cap rules as it’s possible to have, considering the ever-changing nature of those rules. Bringing in Bezbatchenko was all about getting the most out of the salary budget.
It wasn’t just manipulation of the cap that turned around TFC’s fortunes. It was also a gigantic step forward in their spending. TFC had used the DP rule in the past, but in 2014 they made significant commitment to sign high quality players in their relative prime to head break the playoff Hex. In 2014 Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe made the leap from Europe for big money contracts despite having options overseas. That season ended without a playoff appearance. Defoe eventually forced his way out of the club via transfer back to England. However, the club issued a clear statement of intent with those moves. Toronto was going all in.
Bradley stayed and was soon joined by USMNT teammate Jozy Altidore and Juventus man Sebastian Giovinco. A playoff berth finally came in 2015, and Giovinco put the best attacking season the league has ever seen. TFC had cracked something open in the MLS code. While every club in the league would love to sign a Giovinco, Toronto actually got it done. The step from last year’s knockout round appearance (a loss to Montreal) to this year’s Eastern Conference championship wasn’t all that far. The Reds just need a little better look and some good timing.
Timing in the form of Giovinco’s return to the lineup for the playoffs. Timing in the form of Altidore lifting his game to new heights. Timing in the form of head coach Greg Vanney figuring out how to adjust to the situations the playoffs threw at him over the course of three rounds.
TFC and the club’s fans didn’t want to wait this long. They certainly didn’t want to be the laughing stock of the league for ten years, to have their misery become an MLS proto-meme, to have their best moment be the fans littering after a regular season goal from 2007.
Thankfully, all the success now heals the wounds of the failure then. This TFC team is not any of those from the past, especially the ones that set new MLS records for being bad. This TFC team is a powerhouse chock full of talent, capable of playing the best soccer in the league, and ready to host and win MLS Cup in 2016.
Danny Dichio’s 24th minute goal on May 12, 2007 will live forever in the annals of Toronto FC. Now after ten years, it’s no longer the biggest goal in the MLS history of the club. Finally.
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