TORONTO – Today is the day.
The 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs begin for Toronto FC at BMO Field when they welcome D.C. United to town for the first round of the post-season.
“This time of year is fun,” smiled TFC captain Michael Bradley. “There’s no two ways about it. Everybody this week is excited and motivated. There’s a different feel to the place for sure.”
A little less than two weeks ago, Toronto ensured that BMO Field would host at least one more match this season with a Decision Day win over Columbus Crew SC. Since then, the anticipation has been building.
It is a venue that has seen more than its fair share of epic moments over the years.
“There’s nothing better than playing big games at BMO,” said Bradley. “We’ve been lucky that over the last few years we’re had a lot of special nights there.”
“The second half of the season we’ve been a good team, if there was one thing to nitpick we left a few points on the table on days where we should have taken all of them. The reason that eats at you is because you want the opportunity to play that first game in the playoffs at home,” he continued. “And then on the last day when things went our way a little bit that frustration goes away quickly and it’s replaced by big excitement to be able to kick things off at our home, in our stadium in front of our fans.”
Whether it was the 2016 second leg of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Montreal Impact, 2017’s MLS Cup win over Seattle Sounders FC, or any number of other crucial nights at BMO Field, that history will resonate around the ground on the night.
The new guys are well aware.
“You need to be deaf not to have heard about 2016 or 2017,” joked Quentin Westberg. “This is a great part of the club, what makes it great.”
“I like to respect the past, but the past is to the past and we need to take care of the future, the present and make history on our own,” he added. “It’s a great stadium. Playoffs or not, already it’s been outstanding for us, it’s made a difference. It’s an environment we’re happy to be in tomorrow. We want to get BMO on fire.”
Expect drama, expect passion, expect intensity.
“Bringing the intensity,” highlighted Jonathan Osorio. “If you can outmatch the opponent’s, you have the advantage in these kind of games. Both teams are going to bring [it]. If you win that battle, if you bring a little bit more and you’re clean on little details of the game, that’s what gives you the best advantage.”
Osorio is an old hand at these nights, others, perhaps less familiar with such North American ways, find comparisons in other sources.
“They make me think a lot about promotion games,” said Westberg. “The last games of the season where your positioning, the result makes you play European cup or gets you promoted. I was lucky enough to experience four promotions. These games have something in common with playoffs.”
“Make-or-break feel, everything depends on what happens tonight, is the best feeling for a soccer player. That’s really what you play for,” the goalkeeper relayed. “Seasons are amazing, but that thrill you get, that feel that a season’s long work is paying off is the best you can get in soccer. That’s what I live for.”
Saturday, October 19 was proclaimed Toronto FC Day. Wear red, get to BMO Field early, have it rocking.
That presence is felt by all: the coaching staff, the players, and the opponent.
Greg Vanney’s favourite moment comes at the stadium, moments before kickoff.
“On the biggest nights our fans are there early, they’re in their seats and they’re ready,” said Vanney. “You look around when national anthem starts, the stadium is standing, the scarves are up and people are singing.”
“Whoever is singing on the field, when they stop, turn it over to the fans, and it’s loud... it’s one of the best moments in any sporting stadium that I’ve ever been in,” he continued. “That for me is the moment when I feel like, ‘OK. Game on. Here we go.’ I get the chills.”
“I know the players feel it because we’re talked about it as a group. We know it’s game time,” he added. “There are a lot other things guys do to prepare, but me, that is, ‘the whistle is coming and it’s on.’ It’s a nice feeling.”
But it begins well before that too.
“We live in a city where they let you know it’s game time,” smiled Jozy Altidore. “If you live downtown you start to see the red shirts as the day gets later. Where I live I start to see that: a lot of people in red shirts, red scarves, TFC scarves.”
“It feels great. Already you’re starting to think about the game because you see people all around the town getting ready for the game. That’s cool about our city,” Jozy added. “For sure the support will be there tomorrow. It’s on us to push the tempo, push the game, make [the fans] make the place difficult for D.C. to play.”