Throughout these 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs there have been a lot of moments.
From Marky Delgado’s opener against D.C. United to Nick DeLeon’s late screamer – both literally and figuratively – against Atlanta United FC, when this post-season is reflected upon, much will stand out.
There was Richie Laryea’s game-winner against D.C. at BMO Field, kicking off that emphatic first half of extra time, quickly followed by Jonathan Osorio’s brace and a different DeLeon blast.
There was Alejandro Pozuelo’s ice-cold Panenka against NYCFC. And there was Quentin Westberg’s massive penalty save on Josef Martinez in Atlanta, as well as Nicolas Benezet’s rapid response.
When the game has called, Toronto FC has answered.
What can be perceived as a certain looseness heading into the MLS Cup Final on Sunday against Seattle Sounders FC is anything but for Michael Bradley.
“It’s just enjoyment, enjoyment of the moment,” explained the captain. “The opportunity to play in a final doesn’t come around all the time, not even close. Guys play their whole careers and never win anything.”
“You want to enjoy every part of it – enjoy the lead-in, enjoy the build-up – because one day there won’t be another one,” he added. “You won’t have those opportunities and you’ll miss that.”
When the moment comes, savour it, as Laryea did after the Eastern Conference Final was won, the trophy lifted and the crowd had trickled out of Mercedez-Benz Stadium.
“It was big for me, a surreal feeling. A year that went by very quickly I felt, but a lot of positive things,” he explained. “I was trying to take a moment to take it all in.”
In times such as these reality can surpass expectation.
“No, I wouldn’t have imagined that,” admitted Laryea, casting his mind back just a year. “I believed in myself, but the way things were going at the time it was hard to see that at the end of the tunnel – it’s definitely nice and rewarding now.”
When the moment comes, seize it, as Delgado did against D.C. by alertly following up a long-range shot from Pozuelo after Bill Hamid had spilled a previous effort.
It does not go unnoticed.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the work Marky has done,” said Greg Vanney. “He’s a guy that people don’t talk about a lot, he doesn’t score a ton of goals, but his ability to learn how to recognize situations, what is needed – whether it be defensive or attacking – and fill in that spot, has become extraordinary.”
“Engine is second to none, the amount of territory he can cover is incredible,” continued Vanney. “He does a lot of the unsung hero type of things on the field that maybe the typical person, looking for goals and assists, don’t recognize. A lot of the intangible things that help this team to be successful and he deserves the credit for that.”
“He’s grown immensely. He’s still young. He’s coming out of his shell, becoming more confident in the way he is communicating with his teammates. It’s nice to see,” he added. “It’s been a great evolution for him over the second part of the season.”
Whether as a starter or off the bench, as the moment nears, prepare for it.
“First by doing the work, but then on match day it’s belief in yourself,” explained Patrick Mullins. “Each one of our playoffs games so far you’ve seen different tactics, different structure, different ebbs and flows that have called a little bit something different from us each time.”
“As a substitute, you have to be keenly aware to those aspects,” he continued. “When the coach is going to put you in, they can tell you instructions, but it’s very quick and the next thing you know you’re on the field. You need to know what is going on, you need to have seen the changes that have happened, how the rhythm of the game is, and be ready to do your job.”
“Everybody who has come in off the bench has made an impact in one way or another,” the striker added. “It’s really given us the extra edge to get across the line.”
The starters start, but they do not always finish – victory is a group effort.
“When you come off the bench you need to uplift the team,” said DeLeon, who has earned himself the label of ‘super-sub’ this run. “Me personally, I want to bring in a spark, I want to bring the energy, just to pick up some of the guys that are grinding – it’s a long shift.”
Endure for a chance at it – toil will not go unrewarded.
“It’s been long year, definitely been an interesting journey: a pretty decent start, through the middle of the year we had some ups and downs, and then to finish strong it goes to show the character in the group,” reflected DeLeon. “People could have, probably did, doubt us, but that continued to fuel us as a group, brought us closer.”
As he did in 2017, Vanney took a moment to praise the work behind the scenes of the scout team in helping to bring about the visible output from the squad, name checking Drew Moor, Alex Bono, Jay Chapman, and Eriq Zavaleta to mention but a few.
Bring life, whether first in or last.
“When you make a move it can either give you energy, give you life, or it can drag on you, can be a tough experience. It was the first for me here,” explained Mullins. “Integrated into the team quickly, with the structure, a way of doing things, got to know the team around me, and just get to work to make sure that I did my part.”
“Big Boost. Very positive. The reward at the end for us as a team, and myself as well, to be heading to an MLS Cup is very gratifying,” he added. “Something we’ve all earned throughout the year.”
Another moment awaits and with it a trophy.
“Doesn’t matter who is on the field, who is not on a given day,” urged Bradley. “When those lights come on we’ve been ready to go for it.”