In the midst of defeat, it is important to keep in the mind the positives.
Though the loss of the 2019 MLS Cup Final to Seattle Sounders FC will linger, the last three-plus months should not be defined by one match.
The question asked of Toronto FC this season was: how would the club respond to the ‘blip’ that was 2018?
A wrench was thrown into the works come January with key departures. In many ways, 2019 was a case of rebuilding midflight. There was some turbulence, no doubt, but come the final TFC were one of two teams there and represented themselves well on Sunday in Seattle.
“I’m extremely proud,” said Greg Vanney. “Our group has battled.”
“It’s been a season that has felt like two or three all in one,” he continued. “This group has really come together: through the challenges that existed through the middle of the season, the changes that occurred at the beginning.”
“They sacrificed for each other, they enjoy playing with each other, fighting for each other. They have really taken on the concepts we’ve put forward as a club and they built,” highlighted Vanney. “Every season is a process. It’s rarely like 2017 was for us, where you’re on top the whole way through, especially when you go through big changes at the beginning.”
“The latter part of it was such a joy and a pleasure,” concluded the coach. “They left everything on the field. We went on the road and played two very good teams prior to this and came up with two very big results. We felt confident that we could do it today and, unfortunately, we fell short.”
On the final day of the regular season, Toronto did their part, ending the campaign unbeaten in ten, and got the results elsewhere necessary to seal a home match. When D.C. United levelled at the death in Round One of the MLS Cup Playoffs, TFC responded with four goals in 13 minutes. When Eastern Conference table toppers NYCFC stood in the way, Toronto adapted to the tight confines of Citi Field and found a way to win their Conference Semifinals. Same with the visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Atlanta United FC in the Conference Final, lifting yet another trophy.
And come the Final they went for it, in the right way. That is all that can be done.
“Right now the feeling is not a positive one, that’s normal. When you lose a final like that, there is no solace, no consolation prize, that part hurts,” admitted Michael Bradley. “But in the process there is always a big pride inside our group – who we are, what we’re all about – and that part will always be there.”
Toronto, for all the highs that the last four seasons have brought, is no stranger to disappointment.
The Concacaf Champions League Final, the Canadian Championship earlier this year, and the 2016 MLS Cup – all three in shootouts. This defeat is right up there with those. That this was the second against Seattle in the same competition made for obvious comparison with 2016.
“The same,” compared Jonathan Osorio. “The only difference is when we lost in 2016 it was our first time there, we lost on penalties – you could say the knife went in deeper – but this one hurts just as much.”
“It’s a final. You play the whole year to get to this point, for the run that we’ve been on, and then we lose this game, it’s tough,” he continued. “And the way we lost too. You can argue we got here grinding out results, at least our last two games, but this one we were the aggressors, the ones in control, and it changed in the span of minutes.”
But even in those dark moments after the final whistle, there was a kernel of pride.
“This team had to go through a lot from the beginning of the year, individuals going through things – things that nobody outside of the locker room will ever know. We have a lot to be proud about,” reminded Osorio. “Nobody thought we would get to this point, only ourselves, and we got here, we gave ourselves the best chance to win this game. Unfortunately, only one team can win and on the night, things went Seattle’s way.”
Jozy Altidore called it “a missed opportunity.”
“Not many days you get finals and you can play away, with all the circumstances, and play the way we played,” he continued. “We’ll see it as a gut-punch and maybe a little bit of a missed opportunity. The job now is to come back in January, ready to go and try to get to the end of the year and play in this game again.”
The way the group came together over the back half of the campaign bodes well for the 2020 season just around the corner.
“I always heard, when I came to the league, that the most important part of this year was going to be the playoffs and the last few games,” recalled Alejandro Pozuelo, whose epic 16-month-plus long season finally comes to an end. “We had a great team that competed to the levels to beat Atlanta and New York City in the previous games.”
“We [played] a great game today, we were expecting to win again, but, unfortunately, everything changed with that goal,” he lamented. “We’re looking forward to next year, [to] win an MLS Cup next year.”
The captain put the defeat, any defeat, in perspective, when asked about a smile he sent to the stands post-match.
“My son is 7 years old. If it’s possible he wanted us to win more than me, which is saying something,” relayed Bradley. “At that point you’re trying to make sure he understands it’s all part of it and life goes on.”
To paraphrase something Bradley said in the build-up, looking back on his six years in Toronto: what is the good without a little bit of bad in there as well?
“In the moment, the frustration and the heartbreak of losing a final like this, that’s the overriding emotion,” said the captain after his 200th appearance for TFC. “With time, the group will, as always, learn from moments like this, experiences like this, and make sure that they get used in the right way to push us forward.”