Toronto-- Yes, Toronto-- Teaches Canada To Love Footy
There is a joke that goes a little like this: How many Torontonians does it take to screw in a light bulb? One. They just hold the bulb while the world turns around them.
Yes, Toronto has a God thing. They act like they were the first to recognize opposable thumbs. What’s theirs is theirs. What's yours is theirs too.
But even for those who chafe beneath the unholy yoke of the TIFF city, you had to like what you saw on Saturday night in the MLS Final at BMO Field. (In case you haven’t noticed Toronto is an acronym city. lol.) On a night more conducive to the Iditarodthan soccer, Toronto FC did everything right in their championship match against the Seattle Something-or-others. If Seattle had one serious scoring chance before the shootout I must have missed it. (In fact they had bagel chances in regular time.) A series of new household names wearing the red of FC— Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco— was coined on this frosty night beside Lake Ontario. The crowd of 36,000 chanted, threw toilet-paper rolls and sang their little hearts out.
In typical CBC fashion, a reporter had to point out that the Toronto fans had been polite to the 1,500 Seattle Salmon Oil fans who ventured east to see their team triumph.
And, oh… FC lost. In a shootout. To the Seattle Pike’s Markets. Usually, it takes just one missed penalty kick to lose a shootout. FC missed two— including a truly regrettable effort by the team’s captain Bradley. Seattle’s Roman Torres— who’d spent much of the match writhing on then pitch in a late bid for Oscar recognition— made no mistake when his turn came.
And like that, Toronto was denied its first league championship of any kind since the Argonauts won the Grey Cup in 2011. (One helpful announcer on TSN expunged the Argos and said the last Toronto championship was the Blue Jays World Series triumph in 1993.) There was despond in the land.
Okay, it was despond in Toronto, but you know that, as far as the networks go, that also means that the rest of the country was having a tummy ache of regret.
Still, you couldn’t help but notice that this first championship game for a Canadian MLS team was everything that the recent Grey Cup game in the same stadium was not. The fans were unruly, obnoxious, passionate and wholly authentic. The disappointment when Seattle pulled off their heist was genuine. The excitement for the sport of soccer was palpable.
The CFL had to paper the crowd for the Grey Cup, and outside of the exuberant Ottawa RedBlack fans, the atmosphere had all the authenticity of a crowd milling around at the vehicle-registry office. (In defence of the CFL, which is Canadian right down to its three downs, the eight other league cities would have done one-thousand-percent better than the Toronto organizers in staging a party.)
Now, Toronto does have a weakness for the novel. The shiny object. Whatever was hot in Los Angeles last month. So FC could be the latest infatuation. But it looks like they may be onto something when it comes to soccer in Canada. In our endless desire to be entertained to death, soccer might now have third billing on the card.
Why? Well, as everyone who knows a striker from a corner kick has noted, Canadian kids have played the game in impressive numbers for decades. You can’t go by a park in the springtime without seeing hundreds of little gamins pinwheeling around the field while their parents scream like lunatics, “Go, Spencer, go!”
Till they’re 14 and then move on to more dangerous stuff like hockey or full-contact curling. The great conundrum was how to translate all these kid participants into grownup participants playing for Canada at a World Cup.
As usual, Canadian women figured all this out a while back, and women’s WC soccer is a thing in this country now. But Saturday’s effort by FC and its fans might just be an indication that Canadian men (who are pathologically slow in such matters) have come over to the footy side. The MLS squads in Vancouver and Montreal also have very vocal support, and because they’re not Toronto might be reliably counted on to prove that this is more than Toronto falling in love with its own image, edition 4,937.
So yes, it is Toronto’s team. But we should thank them for this one night that they made their game into Canada’s game, too.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy. Bruce is the host of podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. His career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald and the Globe & Mail.