Jim Brennan

Jim Brennan Q&A

With Toronto set to host the MLS Cup this Sunday (8:30 pm ET, TSN2), there’s no one better to talk to about the soccer scene north of the border than Jim Brennan, a Toronto native and the former captain and current assistant general manager at Toronto FC.

MLSsoccer.com spoke with Brennan about the makeup of Toronto’s soccer landscape, the quintessential Canadian fan and the state of the TFC faithful after a tumultuous season.

MLSsoccer.com: Toronto FC started with a bang in 2007. What was it about Canadian fans and the Toronto area, especially, that made the expansion there such an immediate success?

Brennan: We’d had other pro leagues throughout the years, but they never really took off. With MLS, because the gap was so long and [TFC parent company Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment] said we would have a soccer-specific stadium and that we’d be involved with the best pro league in North America, people started coming out in numbers. They’d just been starved so long.

And we have an awful lot of Europeans here who love the game. Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and everywhere around the world they love the game. And in Toronto, when the World Cup is on, the city shuts down. Everybody’s watching it. Our fans are passionate, they’re knowledgeable, and they know and understand the game.

And finally, the people in this city have a team they can call their own. My family’s from Scotland and Ireland, and I ended up supporting teams from over there. The Italians support the teams from Italy, and so on and so on. But now, collectively, we’ve got our team, and it’s Toronto FC. The first-generation Canadians from Toronto support the team, and now the next generation, my sons and my friends’ kids, they’ll grow up with Toronto FC.

MLSsoccer.com: We know some fans are different compared to others in Major League Soccer, depending sometimes on regions or where the team is located. Are Canadian fans truly different than American fans?

Brennan: Yeah, I think so. Our fans are very passionate and they understand what the game’s about. We are a country where everything we do seems to be about giving everything you got as a Canadian. Especially in this city, when you watch your sports, whether it’s the Maple Leafs or TFC, our fans want guys who are going to go out there, 100 percent blue-collar, and work their a---- off. If our players do that, our fans, they appreciate that. Honesty and hard work, those are two things our fans appreciate.

MLSsoccer.com: We hear a lot about Jürgen Klinsmann being brought in to a find a certain style that fits Toronto FC. You think that it’s this hard-working, working-class approach that defines that team?

Brennan: That’s what it is, and our fans love it. You get knocked down, you get back up. That’s the type of people we are as Torontonians, and that’s what we want from our sports teams.

MLSsoccer.com: Where do you think TFC and soccer in general rank on the sports landscape in Toronto?

Brennan: Well, one thing, you’ll never overtake the Leafs. The Leafs are huge, and they’re the country’s team, really. And that’s fine, because we know our role, and we never planned on competing against the Leafs. But right after that, I really think we can compete with the Raptors, the Blue Jays and the [CFL] Argonauts. We have just about every professional sports team you can have here, and Toronto FC’s right up with the best among the fans.

MLSsoccer.com: So much is made in MLS about the markets, who’s big and who’s small. We'd like to think that Toronto is certainly one of the biggest, up there with New York, LA, Chicago and Seattle. What do you think?

Brennan: Absolutely. We think we’re one of the biggest clubs in the league. What are we, the fifth-biggest city in North America? [Ed. note: Brennan is correct – Toronto's 2.5 million in population trails only Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.] We’ve got the population, we do things right here, we’ve got fantastic owners who are well-known all over North America. We are a big club and we’re trying to do things right.

MLSsoccer.com: You mention doing things right, but given all that’s happened this year, what’s the state of soccer fans in Toronto right now?

Brennan: They’re upset. They’re upset because we didn’t get into the playoffs again, and that’s understandable, absolutely so. But the one thing is, they keep backing this club and they keep pushing forward. And they do whatever they can to help us get to that next step, whether it’s getting to the playoffs or winning a championship.

Obviously, we’d have loved nothing more than to have Toronto FC in the final here, playing at home in Toronto. But even though we’re not in it, it’s going to be a fantastic event and the true football fans will come out to watch. And the thing about it, you never know when you’re going to get another MLS Cup final; it could be another 15 years from now. So this is great opportunity for us. Our fans are devastated, but I’m sure they’re going to be coming out in numbers to see the final.

MLSsoccer.com: This is a huge event for you guys not just to show off the club, but to also show off the city. What’s the vibe around town as we get closer and closer to such a big event?

Brennan: It’s fantastic. There really is a buzz around the place. All the local bars, restaurants, night clubs, whatever, there’s just a buzz everywhere. And I know with what Toronto’s like, they’ll do it right and they’ll make sure it’s going to be a fantastic event for everyone.