Yes, you read the headline correctly.
This goes beyond the city’s reputation for unearned bravado and the usual bandwagon jumping that comes with success. There’s tangible support for this claim now.
Toronto FC’s 5-0 thrashing of New York City FC to reach the East final in the MLS playoffs, coupled with back-to-back ALCS trips for the Blue Jays and the Raptors’ run to the conference final in May have Toronto actually feeling good about its pro sports teams. Even the Maple Leafs are fun to watch!
The last time Toronto’s sports teams collectively were this successful was in the early 1990s when the Jays won back-to-back World Series titles, the Argonauts won a Grey Cup with nickname hall-of-famers Rocket Ismail and Pinball Clemons and the Maple Leafs… well, only Wayne Gretzky and Kerry Fraser know for sure what happened in the 1993 Campbell Conference final.
So how did this happen?
Many fans are intimately familiar with the city’s history of mismanaged teams, premature calls of “mission accomplished” and bloody big deals that took place before things began to turn around (even now, the Argos are struggling to stay relevant in a saturated market.) But let’s take a look at the lows and (now) highs of Toronto’s other prominent sports team.
Making baseball fun again
The Blue Jays had more uniform changes than playoff games from 1994-2014, which is never a good sign. One-time messiahs like Eric Hinske, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie couldn’t keep the team competitive in any game that didn’t feature Roy Halladay.
When then-unknown players named Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion arrived, fans didn’t expect much. Then Bautista hit 54 home runs in 2010, Encarnacion just kept hitting and baseball whisperer Alex Anthopoulos assembled the likes of Josh Donaldson and an arsenal of homegrown pitchers that steered the team to an ALCS run in 2015 punctuated by an unforgettable bat flip.
Even losing David Price to free agency and Anthopoulos to new management didn’t sink the Jays this past season. Despite a lacklustre September, the Jays won a wild-card game in walkoff fashion and swept the rival Texas Rangers before bowing out to Cleveland.
Remember when the team played in the SkyDome? And when the biggest highlight was not losing to Michael Jordan?
Toronto basketball has come a long way since then. This recent run of good play is more sustainable than the team’s mid-2000s playoff appearances, with all due respect to Joey Graham and Primoz Brezec.
The Raptors’ core duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry eschewed the label of “playoff chokers” after back-to-back exits in the first-round, guiding the team through two tough series last spring against Indiana and Miami to face off against LeBron James and the eventual-champion Cavaliers.
An improving Jonas Valanciunas and a steady second unit led by Canada’s own Cory Joseph have done wonders for the team and, thanks to Drake, dinosaurs are cool once again.
The Giovinco Show, featuring Jozy and Bradley
TFC supporters still commemorate the first goal in club history in the 24th minute of every match (thanks, Danny Dichio), but with that comes the bittersweet realization that it took 384 minutes (four shutout losses and change) to score that goal.
Those early struggles were quickly forgotten when the team’s “saviour” arrived in the form of … Jermaine Defoe. When that didn’t work, the team brought in a diminutive Italian named Sebastian Giovinco and it’s been nothing but golazos since then.
Complementing the reigning league MVP are American stalwarts Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, underappreciated goalkeeping from Clint Irwin and physical play from Armando Cooper and Drew Moor. Now the team has a spot in the MLS Cup final in its sights, with only rival Montreal standing in its way.
You gotta be-Leaf
When it comes to blueprints for ending long title droughts, the Maple Leafs-Chicago Cubs parallel has been drawn by many. But this year’s Leafs team does look a lot like the Cubs in 2015.
Experienced coach-executive combo? Toronto’s triumvirate of Mike Babcock, Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan feels a lot like Joe Maddon, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein. Promising rookies poised to make an impact? Chicago has Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, while the Leafs have Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
While it’s hard to picture Nazem Kadri in an Anthony Rizzo-like role, the Leafs are slowly but surely starting to play quality hockey that, win or lose, is fun to watch. Remember, Toronto lost Matthews’ four-goal debut, but who cares?
Fifty years is a long time to go without a Cup, and the Leafs will reach that milestone this spring. But you can’t help but feel like things are looking up in Toronto.