TORONTO – Oh those BMO nights.
Toronto FC secured a home start to the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday with their win over Columbus Crew SC.
Having originally been scheduled for earlier in the day, the match will now kickoff at 6 pm, under the lights.
“It’s huge; it’s massive,” said Greg Vanney shortly after learning TFC had jumped into fourth spot and a home date. “The energy in the stadium is something we want behind us.”
“Over the years these home games in the playoffs, these big games, the crowd shows up; they’re loud from the start,” he continued. “For me it’s always a gauge from the national anthem of how the day is going to be.”
“When everybody is in, they’re singing and it’s loud. It gives me chills. I know that our guys are ready and the game is on,” anticipated Vanney. “We’re excited to be home. We’ve worked hard, this whole season, to play at home in front of our fans. We’re going to try to make the most of it.”
For some players, it will be their first experience.
“A home playoff game really means the world,” said Quentin Westberg. “BMO is something special; to be able to play here is really a blessing. What this stadium does to other teams and how it helps us, the fans, everything. I feel that every team plays their best game when they come here, but it's such a great atmosphere that it can only strengthen us.”
“I’m just waiting to experience it,” he smiled. “So far it’s been amazing, feeling these guys behind us, chanting, everyone supporting us so faithfully. It’s a really good feeling. [They] can sense we give everything we have and they give back. It doesn’t need a lot of words.”
For others, they already know.
“It’s always better to play at home in front of our fans because they’re amazing,” said Chris Mavinga. “We’re very happy to play at home.”
“The expectation is to keep winning,” added Mavinga. “Now it’s one game and we have to win.”
With early reports emerging from Montreal and D.C. that results elsewhere were falling into place, Alejandro Pozuelo’s stunning free-kick strike around the hour mark put the next domino in place.
The Impact did TFC a favour with their win over the New York Red Bulls, but it was up to Nick Hagglund’s FC Cincinnati to see out the rest of their match against D.C. United, despite having been reduced to nine-men before half-time.
And when the final whistle blew in Toronto, stoppage-time was still slowly ticking down at Audi Field with Cincinnati keeping it scoreless.
With Fan Appreciation Day autographed mini-balls sailing through the air the final result trickled in.
“At some point the fans were going a little crazy over there, they were really happy. We sensed it a little bit once we heard them,” said Westberg. “I’m so happy to bring them another game here, it’s really great.”
And though Vanney admitted it would be “nice” to go right away given the momentum TFC are riding – unbeaten in ten league matches, they will take the nearly two-week pause and put it to good use.
“It is what it is. Every year when the playoffs come around there is some challenge because of the international breaks,” said Vanney. “With the fact that Jozy [Altidore] might have to heal a little bit, we’ll take the two weeks, get ourselves as prepared as we know we will.”
“We’ll try to carry the momentum that we’ve built. We’ve shown we’re really difficult to beat, if we can execute a few more of our moments on the attacking side, some of these margins might be less close, but that’s the way the playoffs are going to be,” foresaw the coach. “Every play is going to be important, it’s going to be tight. D.C. is a difficult team to beat, just a hard team. They protect their goal really well, they’re going to get numbers behind the ball, they’re very committed in that way.”
In the top left-corner of the MLSsoccer.com home page there is a countdown to kickoff of the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
TFC-D.C. will be the third of four matches on that Saturday. 11 days, eight hours, 31 minutes or so...
And then, according to TFC captain Michael Bradley: “This place comes alive in October and November; so what it means is that we get one night to set the playoff tone here.”
“We’ve had a lot of big nights here over the last few years and I know that this will be another one,” he added. “For the guys who are new here, for the guys who haven’t been here on nights like this, the atmosphere is special. It will really set the tone for us in a big way.”