TORONTO – The downtown streets of Canada’s largest city were officially turned over to Toronto FC on Monday, as the MLS Cup champions celebrated their victory with a parade.
Toronto claimed its first MLS Cup in franchise history on Saturday with a 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders before a sellout crowd of 30,584 fans at BMO Field. Jozy Altidore scored the winner in the 67th minute off a setup from Sebastian Giovinco, while Victor Vazquez sealed the victory with an injury-time goal.
Monday’s parade kicked off at Maple Leaf Square at Air Canada Centre at 11:45 a.m. ET, amid frigid minus-6 Celsius conditions. Two open-air double-decker buses carrying players, coaches and staff, as well as their families, slowly snaked their way through the heart of downtown, led by flag-waving and banner-carrying members of TFC supporters’ groups, while thousands of fans lined the streets and cheered them on.
The team finally arrived 40 minutes later at Nathan Phillips Square where thousands of fans were awaiting them outside of Toronto City Hall for a public rally to celebrate Saturday’s MLS Cup victory.
A makeshift stage was set up in the heart of the square where the players and team staff stood and partied, while Mayor John Tory, who previously proclaimed Monday as “Reds Day” in Toronto, welcomed the crowd and kicked off a series of speeches.
“Happy Reds Day, everybody,” a beaming Mayor Tory proclaimed.
“Congratulations to the players who did us so proud on Saturday, and throughout a great season.”
Speeches from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s Larry Tanenbaum, TFC club president Bill Manning, general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, and coach Greg Vanney followed before captain Michael Bradley stepped up to the podium and addressed the crowd, referencing the Reds’ heartbreaking loss to Seattle in the 2016 MLS Cup final.
“This has been our dream, our obsession for the last year,” Bradley told the crowd.
“And to be able to take care of everything that we wanted, to lift that trophy in this city in front of our fans, to give everybody a day like this… this is why every single one of us is here.”
From there, the entire team stepped up to the front of the stage where Bradley hoisted the MLS Cup trophy above his head for all the fans to see, as Queen’s “We Are The Champions” played over the loud speakers and fireworks went off in the background.
There was one final moment of celebration before the team departed, as Canadian defender Ashtone Morgan, TFC’s longest-serving player, was given the honour of beating the drum and leading the fans through a version of the “Viking Clap.”
TFC’s captain was humbled by Monday’s turnout for the parade.
“I came here three years ago, and to see the way these fans have embraced me, and this team in that time, and to see this outpouring of affection, I can’t put it into words what this means to me. It’s humbling,” Bradley told Sportsnet.
It was a sentiment echoed by Vanney.
“These fans have been through so much, and we’ve been through a lot with them. To see all of this, it makes all the hard work you put in worthwhile,” TFC’s coach told Sportsnet.
Flanked by his wife and two young children, Bezbatchenko gave credit to Vanney and his coaching staff for the job they did this season.
“I never want this feeling to end. I’m hoping we can do all of this again in 12 months’ time,” Bezbatchenko told Sportsnet.
It was the players’ day, but credit must be given to the thousands of fans who braved the cold weather to be part of what was an emotional celebration.
Toronto-born fan Tony Gray was in attendance at Nathan Phillips Square with his five-year-old son Evan, and he called Saturday’s MLS Cup win “one of the top sporting moments of my life.”
“I’ve been TFC a season ticket holder since Day 1. Even when you knew this team wasn’t all that great, we still had everybody coming out to games, singing and dancing and chanting. The players we loved it, and we loved them. Since the beginning they’ve been a class act, and we’ve always appreciated it,” Gray told Sportsnet.
TFC were honoured at Air Canada Centre on Sunday evening during a special on-ice ceremony prior to the Maple Leafs-Oilers game. Manning, Bezbatchenko, Vanney and several players were on hand, with Bradley dropping the ceremonial puck between Maple Leafs forward Leo Komorov and Oilers captain Connor McDavid.
Saturday’s win was sweet revenge for TFC after losing to Seattle via a shootout in last year’s final at BMO Field. It also completed a historic treble, with the Reds having previously won the Supporters’ Shield (the trophy awarded to the team that finishes the regular season in first place) and the Canadian club championship this year. Toronto also set the record for most points in a single regular season, with 69.
“This team, from the day we lost in the final last year, has been on a mission. … Three trophies this year. I’m so proud,” Manning told Sportsnet inside the locker room after Saturday’s game as he swigged from a champagne bottle.