You know, the first time I ever heard of MLS was back in 2000. It wasn't through any clever league marketing trying to reach the untapped Canadian market. It wasn't through word of mouth either. Wasn't thanks to the internet; It would be another 2 years before I even had a computer with internet capability. It was actually through playing video games. FIFA 2000: Major League Soccer with Eddie Pope on the cover. When I would get bored of smashing the rest of Serie A, I'd switch it up. Back then I used to play using DC United. I thought the name and logo were cool and I liked their colours...I still do.
So unlike a fair amount of people in the Toronto area, when TFC became a thing in 2007, I wasn't completely ignorant to what it was all about. Heck, I played with a guy in highschool who ended up on the team and was long time friends and played with another who nearly made it through the open try outs.
I was a student back then and making $7 an hour at Canadian Tire; I didn't exactly have the luxury of disposable income. My memories of season one are in flashes. I watched Danny Dichio score our first goal in franchise history. I remember the Canadian duo of captain Jimmy Brennan and DeRo entering the All-Star game together to chants of “TFC! *clap clap clap* TFC!...” before DeRo was even a Red. I remember seeing my first game live, a nil-nil draw against RSL...a very season one scoreline. But that was when it all changed for me. I got hooked.
It would be 4 more years before I could afford my own set of seasons tickets in the south end, but along the way was a lesson in patience and endurance. I discovered twitter and joined the online TFC family. I joined the Red Patch Boys supporters group. I watched the games, read the articles and learned the players. The more I learned, the more I saw, the more I fell helplessly in love. But it was an unrequited love though. The team couldn’t even buy their way out of the basement.
Those early years were tough. I had everyone, including family and friends, questioning my sanity. I was routinely asked how I could support a team that was just so bad. And they were bad. Very, very bad. The number of face-palms and time I spent questioning everything I believed in while sitting on the train home, especially during that historic 0-9 run of futility, would be astounding if I had kept count. It was demoralizing. It was painful. Showing up to games became a routine, like muscle memory, not something done out of enjoyment.
I remember a coach picking a fight with fans, and a DP calling us “the worst team in the world.” I remember celebrating Canadian Championships and watching Champions League matches played in front of 50,000 while not winning a single league match.
What got me through the hardest days, you might ask? It was supporters culture, the fantastic people I met along the way, and this unexplainable love for a team I begged the soccer gods to allow to be at competitive at the very least.
It was during those dark days that the opportunity to take a stab at writing for a great website came along. There was a lot more to be strongly opinionated about then. As it turned out, it only forced me deeper into covering and in turn loving the beautiful game right here at home. I'm thankful to say I've managed to pretend to be a writer for longer than Jermain Defoe pretended to like Toronto, though. Zing.
See, you have to understand things through the eyes of a supporter. Whether it’s true or not, we feel like we’re part of the game. We are part of the game. We provide the atmosphere and at times it seems as if the players will to win or lose hinges directly on our involvement. Every loss, every win, every save, every goal, every tackle, every foul, it’s personal. It’s an emotional roller coaster that you just can’t get off of. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s like an addiction.
My fiancé asked me after TFC lost in Montreal, "how did you even fall in love with TFC?" I had some trouble answering her. I hope that doesn't make me a bad supporter. Even now I can’t succinctly answer it. Is it because they’re the first hometown team I share a true connection with? Because I knew from the start, contrary to popular belief that this was going to be something special and I fought to “spread the gospel”? Perhaps. But it was actually the words to a song that we routinely since that provided the best answer.
It happened without warning,
I fell in love with you.
There's no way to explain it,
Deep down I know it’s true.
There’s just something about you,
That’s got a hold of me.
For you I’m always singing,
For you I sweat and bleed.
What am I trying to say here.
We're just a few days away from a MLS Cup being played right here in my hometown of Toronto. My team, the one I blame for my non-existent hairline, will be playing in it. When I say it’s been a long time coming, it doesn’t do the situation proper justice. Not even in my wildest dreams could I have pictured this becoming a reality. Seeing Michael Bradley raise the Eastern Conference Championship trophy on November 30th, after a game like that against such a bitter rival on the same pitch where so many low points have all played out in front of crowds on beautiful summer days and in torrential downpours; it was almost too much to take in.
The road to get to this point has been long and hard. If it's been tough for people who are paid to cover the team, just imagine being emotionally invested while having to pay for the privilege of suffering over the course of nearly a decade of pain. It’s cliche, I know, but “started from the bottom now we here” really does apply.
So when Saturday night comes around and all eyes are on Toronto and TFC, the city that’s taken this team and its fans for granted for so long has a chance to break its painful championship drought. It isn’t the Leafs. Not the Raptors or Jays. The Argos don’t count. It’ll be TFC stepping up for its city, and I’m proud to say I’ve witnessed it all and stood side by side with so many others who I know feel the same. Win or lose, it’s been one hell of a ride; I wouldn't trade it for the world.