The rain poured down on the field and fans but nobody seemed to notice—never mind care. The game was too engrossing. Was this really soccer in North America? Were these two Canadian teams? Was this the second world-class game requiring extra time at BMO Field in less than a week?
The second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference final was a pinch-yourself occasion that nobody on the pitch or in the stands will ever forget, for better or worse. The first ever Canadian team to advance to the MLS Cup was crowned in one of the best MLS playoff games ever. If you weren’t there you’ll wish you were because in the second leg of the Eastern division final everywhere you looked there was an image that told its own story.
The march over to the stadium before the game seemed like a procession. A proclamation that ultras don’t only exist in Europe or South America but also in Southern Ontario. Not sure if it was the flares or the collective body heat but the intensity of the just-under-a-kilometre walk to the stadium had supporters in a full-on sweat.
Dwayne De Rosario showed his solidarity by walking over with the Inebriatti. Danny Dichio presented the Eastern Conference hardware in a ceremony before the match. Both are still soldiers for the club, but neither got to partake in such an atmosphere during his TFC days. Hopefully, both take solace in knowing they laid the foundation at the club for nights like this to become a reality.
This most likely will be the last time Didier Drogba laces up his boots in competitive football. One of the great strikers of his era has had an up-and-down experience in MLS. It is a credit to the level of the match and current-day MLS that Drogba’s farewell was just a footnote and not the main story.
Fans went ballistic when Greg Vanney subbed off Sebastian Giovinco in extra time. “Just leave him on for penalties,” one fan shouted.
But the game would never get to PKs. The man who came on for Seba, Benoit Cheyrou, scored 90 seconds later on his first touch of the ball. Tossaint Ricketts, another late sub by the manager, scored shortly after.
In his time with TFC, Vanney’s hiring and credentials have been questioned; he has been said to be on the hot seat multiple times; he has been jeered by supporters. But for Wednesday’s match he seemed to be the only person with a calm demeanour, often pacing the sidelines while motioning with both hands for his players to settle down. There are no more questions about the head man.
As soon as the final whistle sounded the players scattered in all directions. Some ran to goalie Clint Irwin. Some ran to the touchline to celebrate with the technical staff and the subs. Others just dropped to their knees where they stood. Jonathon Osario took off south to Lambeau leap into the stands with the supporters. Fellow Canadian Ricketts raced to get a Brazilian flag to show his support for the Chapecoense soccer team and the 71 passengers who died on a flight to Colombia on Monday night.
They all sang “champione champione ole ole ole” when they got the trophy on stage. They immediately brought that trophy to the south-end supporters. Jozy Altidore repeatedly screamed “One more game!”, preaching from his pulpit that the job was not yet done. Ricketts was given the honour of beating the drum to start the celebratory Icelandic-style clap that has quickly become routine at BMO this fall. A good 30 minutes after the final whistle the building was still full of fans, all celebrating the fact they get to come back and do it again, one more time.
Michael Bradley is a captain in every way possible. Not just first to lift the trophy, he virtually became stage manager as to who touched it next. While his teammates were taking selfies with the Cup, he was the face of the franchise conducting a parade of interviews. Like a politician, he patiently and politely answered every question when his body was itching to go see his family and continue the celebration with his friends. As he finally began edging his way off the pitch, it took him about 20 minutes to move 20 feet as everyone wanted to say something to him or take a photo with him.
The last man he saw before he entered the tunnel and came inside from the rain was Tim Leiweke. The two men embraced. Bradley probably isn’t here if it wasn’t for Leiweke. The two men who dreamt big and committed to each other in a promise for nights like this shared whispered words amongst a loud bear hug. Maybe they weren’t so crazy to believe TFC could be champions after all.
Maple Leafs legend Barilko comes to life in sister's scrapbooks
He is a name, a number on a banner, a character in a song by a beloved band. But in photos and newspaper clippings saved in scrapbooks by his sister, Anne, the flesh-and-blood Bill Barilko comes to life.