As Toronto FC continues to dominate opponents and march toward the “best ever” conversation, we have to ask the question in the back of many people's minds.
What happens if Toronto FC sets the record for most points in the single season and earns the Supporters' Shield but doesn't win MLS Cup?
Sitting alone atop the league after Saturday’s victory (as they have for most of the 2017 season) TFC officially punched their ticket into the playoffs. Their magic number is now 10 to win the Supporters’ Shield. 2017 may be unprecedented in Toronto sports and considered an exceptional season by most, but it’s still not enough. For comparison, let’s look back at two teams: the 1998 and 2011 LA Galaxy.
Both years the LA Galaxy won the Supporters’ Shield. In fact, in 1998 the Galaxy set the record for most points in a season at 68 and most goals scored at 85. But does anyone aside from MLS stat nerds remember 1998? Not really. Why? Despite all of their records, 1998 Galaxy didn’t win MLS Cup. The 2011 LA Galaxy, though, is always mentioned as a candidate for G.O.A.T. despite earning fewer points and scoring less goals than their 1998 predecessors. Why? They not only won the Supporters’ Shield, but they sealed the deal and beat the Houston Dynamo to win MLS Cup.
The pace the Reds find themselves on is remarkable, especially considering their latest 5 game winning streak where they’ve outscored opponents 17-3 in the process. But let’s ask ourselves an important question and answer it honestly.
Does any of it really matter if they don’t win MLS Cup?
Sure, having potentially the greatest regular season of all time is something that will be remembered by a select group of people and be brought up whenever another team approaches the mark, as it has come up recently. But aside from that? It would be mentioned sparingly at best. It’s even difficult to look back and name previous Supporters’ Shield winners; an incredible achievement no doubt, but everyone remembers the champion.
That star above the team crest is what it all boils down to, and that’s something Toronto FC desperately need.
To put things in perspective, the 2016 Golden State Warriors will go down in history as the team that broke the NBA’s single season record for wins in a season with 73, beating the 72 win mark set by the ‘96 Chicago Bulls. But beyond statistics, how is the 2016 NBA season remembered by most? It’s remembered as the year LeBron James won the NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers by overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the Golden State Warriors. Analysts and fans can talk until they’re blue in the face about how prolific that Warriors team was for years to come, but the fact of the matter is that it is the Cavs who have the championship ring. Does anyone really consider the 2016 Warriors the G.O.A.T. since they couldn’t seal the deal?
So what does that tell us about Toronto FC’s incredible 2017 season? It says they bounced back from a heartbreaking MLS Cup loss at home in 2016 and played out of their minds for 34 games. It means they could possibly become the most dominant regular season team of all time. But if they do all these things and don’t win MLS Cup when it’s all said and done, it won’t matter to most people. North America is not like Europe, and MLS is not set up in the same way European leagues are. Playoffs and championship games matter.
Remember the 2007 New England Patriots? I’m sure players, coaches and fans alike would trade their perfect regular season for a Super Bowl victory in a heartbeat. The 2016 Golden State Warriors would hands down trade a few wins for that championship ring. Any NHL team that wins the President’s Trophy would gladly swap it for the Stanley Cup. Why should MLS be any different?
The things remembered tend to be the things most visible. Talk to a Sounders fan, and that star on their jersey will bring back euphoric memories. Talk to a Timbers fan about their star and they’ll tell a similar story. Houston, Colorado, Sporting KC, LA, DC, and every other club that has earned that star will remember the moment their club was called champions.
In sports, you play to win championships. If TFC can't earn that first star above their crest, they'll go down in history as just another team that couldn’t win when the pressure was on.