In its 10th season, Toronto FC is one game away from celebrating the MLS championship.
Prior to 2014, Toronto scored double-digit wins in a season just once in seven years. The front office was expert mostly in rolling back ticket prices to try to retain once-loyal fans. There was a revolving door policy to players, coaches and philosophy.
But Wednesday night at BMO Field in Toronto wiped out much of that misery.
Greg Vanney’s team got to the championship game against Seattle in a where’s-the-Gravol, roller-coaster ride of an Eastern Conference final against the Montreal Impact.
Substitutes Benoit Cheyrou and Tosaint Ricketts scored two minutes apart in extra time to send Toronto to the MLS Cup final with a 5-2 win on the night and a 7-5 aggregate victory over the Impact.
“One of our messages was there was no way, no chance, no how we were going to be out-competed tonight in front of our fans in our stadium,” said Vanney. “And we were going to run hard and we were going to run through everything that we had to make sure that those margins turned in our favour.”
It took extra time and 12 goals to decide a scintillating series. Toronto will host the Sounders on Dec. 10 in the MLS championship game, becoming the first Canadian team to go for the title.
“For me, the most exciting playoff event that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Vanney. “And for sure that I’ve ever seen.”
Toronto trailed 3-2 after Game 1 in Montreal and had to come back the hard way after the Impact scored first. And when Toronto responded, Montreal came back in a heavyweight battle played out in the rain before a BMO Field record crowd of 36,000.
Only once before in MLS playoff history had a club trailed by as many as three goals in a two-leg aggregate series and come back to win the tie. The San Jose Earthquakes were down 4-0 in 2003 before rallying to defeat the Los Angeles Galaxy 5-4.
Tied 5-5 on aggregate, Cheyrou scored on a header in the 98th minute, just one minute after entering the game, when he knocked in a Steven Beitashour cross. Then Jozy Altidore out-muscled a couple of defenders to send in a cross that Ricketts, beating two more defenders to the ball, swept in.
‘This is our house’
The Toronto FC faithful, who had been rained on most of the night, started chanting “This is our house.”
The Toronto bench came flying onto the field after the final whistle to celebrate the historic win as confetti flew from the rafters. The players then went to celebrate in front of the south stand fans before the Eastern Conference cup presentation.
The Montreal players were spent.
“Guys are down in the dressing room. It’s gruelling out there,” said Impact coach Mauro Biello.
“Today was a tough game, a lot of emotions in playoffs, it’s a long season, and in the end the players gave everything, all the way to the end. It’s a tough moment, for sure, for everyone, when you’re so close and falling short. But we’ll be back, and we’ll be even stronger.”
In the Toronto dressing room, hip-hop blared. Canadian mid-fielder Jonathan Osorio clutched the Eastern Conference cup like it was his newborn baby.
“A lot is going through my mind,” he said. “I’m just trying to live in the moment, try to enjoy it. But at the same time I’m already thinking about the final. I’m already thinking about how we can beat Seattle.”