TORONTO – Moments after leaving the training pitch on Tuesday afternoon, loud noises could be heard emanating from the Toronto FC dressing room at the BMO Training Ground.
They rang of astonishment, with hints of both delight and despair, as the final 20 minutes or so of a match between Germany and South Korea saw the defending champions bounced from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at the group stage.
“It's tough for Germany, to be out at this stage,” said Justin Morrow when the dust settled. “Teams are hungry, teams get better; it's difficult to repeat... everybody knows that. They learned the hard way, but it goes on.”
As the group stage wraps up with a fascinating knockout phase set to begin, already this tournament has won acclaim as a classic.
The epic 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal. Mexico's stunning win over Germany; the Germans last-ditch, fate-postponing strike against Sweden; Argentina's last-minute salvation against Nigeria. Words fail.
“This third [instalment] of group games has been incredible; every single day,” said Greg Vanney. “It shows the margin between teams is not enormous anymore. Countries that were behind a while ago are making progress and that's a great thing for the game.”
“The gaps are narrowing, which means on any given day, you miss a couple chances, make a couple mistakes, you can lose that game,” continued Vanney. “The World Cup is showing that; we're seeing that in general. It's good for the game, more competition across it. Heartbreak for some, but it's exciting for the fan to watch.”
Toronto's first day off last two weeks ago coincided with the start of the World Cup, making truly breaking away from the game nigh-impossible.
“You can't escape soccer, it's always there,” said Alex Bono of the time off. “Getting up early, watching games until the afternoon, and then you can start your day. It's the biggest sporting event in the world, only comes around every four years, when it's on, you've got to watch.”
Nicolas Hasler too was caught up in the action: “[When we were off] I watched every game; even got up in the morning at 6 AM to watch the France-Australia game. I'm enjoying it: a lot of goals, lot of good games. Quite a good World Cup.”
They weren't the only ones.
“I love it,” proclaimed Eriq Zavaleta. “Anybody who loves the game the way that I love the game does.”
“You get a chance to see countries, different identities; get to see players break out in a big tournament,” continued Zavaleta. “It's always fun. I love watching the World Cup, all the guys here do, that's why it's all over the TVs.”
“A World Cup presents an [opportunity] for the world to come together,” continued Zavaleta. “Watching videos of different countries; how much passion they have for their country and their teams has been really fun to watch. It's shaping up to be really good tournament.”
It even offered the chance to catch up with an old friend, former TFC midfielder Armando Cooper, who is representing Panama in Russia.
“I'm not sure he's too happy with the result (Panama lost 3-0 to Belgium in their opening match), but I hadn't seen him play since he left us, so to watch him play again was fun,” said Zavaleta.
“Amazing, I love it,” beamed Osorio in the moments after Germany's fate became clear. “It's crazy. When you think you can't love it anymore, it gets better.”
“The things I most appreciate are the fans,” continued Osorio. “Videos of Argentina fans outside the players hotel before the game, behind the players, giving their support. They make a chant against the media in Argentina who are so hard on them. As a player that's amazing, you can't ask for more.”
Added Osorio: “Now that we know the World Cup is coming here, it's exciting because this will be here in a few years.”