TFC aiming to become the best in MLS, North America

Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, right, and Jozy Altidore, left, celebrate defeating the Seattle Sounders to win the MLS Cup final in Toronto on Saturday, December 9, 2017. (Mark Blinch/CP)

TORONTO – The New York Yankees are one of the most successful and iconic franchises in pro sports, but they are also one of the most hated.

With their star-studded line-up, a history of success (a record 27 World Series titles) and the unapologetic manner in which they buy the best free agents, the Yankees have become the team that a lot of baseball teams love to loathe.

Toronto FC are not the New York Yankees of Major League Soccer. The Reds would have to win a lot more championships before they could be legitimately compared to the Bronx Bombers. But they are like the Yankees in one sense, according to club president Bill Manning – underneath all of the ill feelings, he believes there is a healthy respect for TFC, who beat the Seattle Sounders in last weekend’s MLS Cup final.

“Hate is a strong word. I would hope that we have respect across the league,” Manning said.

“We want to be one of the top franchises in this league and in North America, frankly. You have to prove it on the field first, I think we’ve done that, and now hopefully you’ll see over the years that we’ll continue to grow. Let’s talk about the Yankees when we win a few more championships, but certainly if we can emulate a franchise, that would be it.”

Respect is not easily given. It has to be earned, and Toronto went a long way in earning a lot of teams’ respect after completing a historic treble: Supporters’ Shield champions, Canadian club championship and MLS Cup. They also set the record for the most points in a single MLS regular season, with 69 – all of this after Toronto suffered that heartbreaking loss to Seattle on home soil in the 2016 MLS Cup final.

“Getting to the championship game, and how we go about our business, I don’t think we’re an arrogant franchise at all, and I hope we never come off that way. We’re confident, and we let our results speak for themselves. That’s how we’re going to continue to go about our business,” Manning offered.

Like the Yankees, TFC is not afraid to splash the cash, making the most of the financial resources available to them via Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. At $22.4 million U.S., Toronto boasted the highest payroll in MLS in 2017. To put that number into context, consider this that New York City FC had the second highest at $17.9 million. More than half of the league’s 22 teams spent less than $10 million on their roster this year.

To be sure, the money and huge investment has helped TFC climb to the summit of MLS. But it would be short-sited to suggest that’s the only, or even the main reason, why the Reds are where they are at the moment. Sound management, and smart player scouting and recruitment have allowed general manager Tim Bezbatchenko to build one of the deepest MLS clubs in a salary-cap league. Coach Greg Vanney has made the most of his depth and the quality of his players, moulding the Reds into a tactically flexible side that is the envy of MLS.

“We’ve been allowed to go out and get three DP players. But the rules are equal for everyone. Everyone can go out and do it. I don’t think owners on other teams are lacking in financial resources,” Bezbatchenko said.

“To a certain degree, I think it reflects our ambition as a club. I think you’d be sorely mistaken if you thought that’s all you need to do to be successful [to spend money on DPs] because if you look at the history of the league, and even leagues around the world, you’d find spending a lot of money doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Manning echoed his GM’s sentiment, saying the club doesn’t make apologies for the ambition it has shown in signing players the calibre of Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley, while stressing you still have to perform on the pitch.

“It’s a results-oriented business. We’re not afraid to be ambitious, but respect is earned on the field and how you [conduct] yourself win or lose as an organization, and I hope we are respected around the league for the right reasons.”

After enjoying the greatest MLS season in history, TFC will surely have a bullseye on their back in 2018. Everybody will be targeting them, looking to knock them off of their lofty perch.

Manning wants his players to embrace being the favourites.

“This group [of players] is very secure and very confident in who they are. Whether we are the favourite or whether we have the highest payroll in the league, this team comes out and competes every single day. So, we relish that a little bit. There’s some teams that have to be the underdog. We don’t have to be the underdog. We’re very comfortable being a favourite,” Manning said.

The first decade of Toronto FC in the words of the players, coaches, executives and fans who built the franchise.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.