Despite TFC’s loss, MLS Cup final a clear win for soccer in North America

Toronto FC fans cheer on their side at the MLS Cup final in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

While shovelling snow for 90 minutes thanks to Toronto’s first snow storm of the year, I kept thinking about those 90 minutes in Seattle on Sunday.

Let me start with the highlight of my matchday, which was a perfectly-timed elevator ride after Victor Rodriguez’s goal that resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime handshake with Ken Griffey Jr.

He was quick to admit he wasn’t leaving early to “beat the traffic,” but to return to a hunting trip in Montana with his father. “I left him out there, and he says it’s real good today,” he said. “This was cool… but I got to get back.”

Soccer is a game of moments, not just performances. A heartbreaking reality for Toronto FC, the 3,000 dressed in red at Century Link Field on Sunday, and those who watched the MLS Cup final on TV in Canada as TFC dominated the Sounders for the better part of an hour. The visitors seemed completely unfazed by the stadium record crowd and sea of Sounder Blue and Rave Green — the opposite of the start to the conference final in Atlanta.

Alejandro Pozuelo showed he is one of the best players in Major League Soccer. Goalkeeper Quentin Westberg was a star again, and made a crucial
save just before halftime to keep the match deadlocked. Summer acquisition Nicholas Benezet was a handful for Seattle’s defence for his 68 minutes on the pitch, and was perhaps unlucky not to have scored a goal himself.

The frustration in the changeroom was expected, and raw. A group of players watched the hotly debated non-call on Jonathan Osorio — which led to Seattle’s deflected opening goal — on someone’s phone being passed around the room. Each player took a long pause before stepping into a media scrum in the middle of the room as they tried to put their disappointment into words.

Michael Bradley tends to lean on the phrase, “Hey, that’s football” when he’s searching for something else to say. It was, in that moment, a very appropriate way to sum up the turning of the tide that saw Seattle score three times in the final 33 minutes.

Just like 2016, it felt like Lady Luck was dressed in Sounders colours. When it comes to finals, she has only worn red half the time — TFC have won four and lost four finals overall since the start of 2016.

While the heartache for TFC fans will last long through the winter, there is a consolation I took away from the weekend in the Emerald City — the greatest day in Seattle Sounders history was a massive win for the sport and everyone in North America who loves the beautiful game.

The thought of 70,000 people at a soccer match in North America was once unthinkable for so many people. Combined with last year’s record crowd at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, 142,293 fans attended the last two MLS Cup finals. That’s pretty incredible. The television ratings may have been disappointing, but the league was the big winner on Sunday. The images and videos of fans jammed into parking lots and bars as early as 8 a.m. trended worldwide.

MLS has grown leaps and bounds since Toronto FC entered the league in 2007. With two more franchises joining MLS in 2020 — Inter Miami and Nashville SC — the game will continue to grow in new markets. And while you may not feel like David Beckham’s business ventures or the growth of the game in the Country Music Capital matter here in Canada, remember that the fight to push the game forward is a continental battle.

The soccer landscape has changed so much in recent years and with limited access to watching games, keeping the sport on the minds and tongues of more people in North America truly is the most important thing. On Friday, fans and non-fans will have another continental event to talk about when the Canadian men’s national team plays the United States in Orlando in the CONCACAF Nations League.

So, if you love soccer, keep watching and keep talking about it. Because we all win when the game grows.

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