TORONTO – May 12, 2007 was a day that will live long in the memory.
BMO Field: the seat cushion game; the first goal in Toronto FC history and the club’s first win.
The start to their inaugural season, with three-straight road matches, had been a tricky one for TFC.
They lost their first-ever game away to Chivas USA – Sacha Kljestan amongst the scoring in a 2-0 win. Then were beat 4-0 at Steve Nicol’s powerhouse New England Revolution with Taylor Twellman, Shalrie Joseph, and Andy Dorman on the scoresheet.
A 3-0 loss to Kansas City would follow, Eddie Johnson scoring inside of five minutes, leading into the home opener on April 28 against those same Wizards.
Johnson would again provide the dagger, scoring late, the 81st minute, to send the masses home with a 1-0 defeat, engrossed by what they experienced, but with a sour taste. Setting the stage for the dramatics two weeks later when the season resumed.
Danny Dichio, who made his debut in the home opener, remembers those days well.
“The team were away for the first few games. I didn't actually meet them until they came came back from Kansas [after the third game] – I watched that game at BMO, that was shown on the big screen,” he recalled. “They played midweek, I met the team the next day when they flew in and then we had a couple of days to prepare for the next game which was actually the first home game against Kansas City, or the Kansas City Wizards as they were called back then.”
Still buoyed by the excitement of the new, the mounting losses were not a burden. The lack of a goal was on the mind, but overall there was expectation.
“It wasn't so much the group were down,” said Dichio. “They were still pretty excited to be a new team and looking forward to our first home game because they'd been on a long road trip.”
“I remember the build-up to the game and it was strange for me,” continued Dichio. “Because it was announced as the ‘home opener’, when, for me, the week before was the home opener – that was our first home game. But I don't know how this had been drummed up to be the [one] where everyone celebrated the team in Toronto.”
Perhaps the hubbub was that it was the first Saturday match at BMO Field, the advent of a ritual that would be enjoyed many times over in the coming years.
“I remember it being a beautiful day, I remember the anticipation of, ‘This is possibly going to be our first win, our first goal, that we could get something in front of a raucous crowd that were really eager to put TFC on the map.’ There was something strange in the air that day,” he noted. “I didn't have any family at the game. We were still busy moving all our stuff, packing everything up in our house in England. [They] were coming out later that week, so I didn't have any family or friends as such in the stadium. I remember that the group as a whole were pretty nervous and even the staff, they were a little bit apprehensive and anxious about getting this first win and this first goal.”
He quickly made thousands that afternoon, forcing an Edson Buddle cross over the line in the 24th minute.
In the moment, the gravity of scoring that first goal was lost on Dichio.
“No, not at all. I wasn’t a massive goal-scorer throughout my career, I was mainly a guy that set people up, assisted and notched the odd goal here and there. I’ve scored important goals in different stadiums, but to score a goal like that, which wasn't my most exquisite goal – it was bundled in – it's one of the most important goals in my career because of the value of it and the way we still talk about it and the fans continue to sing the song because it's such an important mark,” said Dichio. “Not just because it was me – I'm still very fortuitous in that it was, just me being in the right place – but to have the fans understand how much that goal meant to them as a club and putting us on the map. And that we scored that first goal, that we actually achieved that as a team.”
Then came the rain. A peculiar, conveniently frisbee-shaped, padded rain.
“For the players on the field, we were still getting over the fact that we scored a goal, at last. I mean, we'd been working on crossing and finishing and all kinds of shooting drills and just lots of repetitions towards goal all week. And for us to just finally put the ball in the back of the net was a real relief,” recalled the goal-scorer. “And then to have the delay, the eruption of the fans throwing, not only the seat cushions, but there was all kinds of paper being thrown on, cups being thrown on and streamers flowing on as well.”
“You kind of took a back step, just for a moment, just to say, ‘ Wow! This is a pretty unique moment,’” he continued. “Not just in my career, but also in the history of the club and the players that were on the field that day.”
“Even the Chicago players were a little bit taken aback by just what was going on in the stadium that day. I’ve spoken to a couple of them afterwards, guys that have come to our club (Chad Barrett) or the likes of Jim Curtin, who was playing that day that coaches Philly now, who said he’d never been involved in an environment or atmosphere like that in his career before.”
It was one of those moments that marked the birth of the club, exactly what brought Dichio to the club. His red card 20 minutes later for a goalmouth scuffle – also a first – only cemented his legacy.
“One of the major factors for me coming across to Toronto was that I would be playing for a team that had no history. It was an expansion team, a new team, I'd never had that experience before,” explained Dichio. “Playing in England, we have such a deep history of football ingrained in us. We're very lucky in that sense.”
“The clubs that I played for throughout my career [were] anywhere between 80- and 150-years old, but to come to a club where you're part of the starting process, the foundation,” he pondered. “It was kind of strange, but exciting for me to be part of the initial team that were representing the city of Toronto, being the forefront of starting something up in this city.”
“We’ve had some great teams in the past three, four years now, our team in those early years were nowhere near the quality of what we've seen the past [few] years. We know that. We know that as individuals, knew that as a group as well, but we had a fantastic team spirit. A real group pride that we were representing a new team in front of a new set of fans, where we were trying to build the game in the city,” he beamed. “We knew there was a lot of expats, whether European background, South American and Central American, African, Caribbean – whatever it was – a lot of people loved the game of soccer here. But they felt like they didn't belong to a team and we were part of that, part of the process in bringing that.”
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Now in season 14, Dichio has seen the club he helped start find success.
“It's been really rewarding because I've seen a lot of people that have put in a lot of effort and a lot of groundwork into trying to build the club to where they are today. Not just people that have been involved with the team, but people involved with the media side, people that are involved with the admin, directors, whatever it may be,” he said. “People have put a lot of effort in, a lot of time into trying to establish the club to where it is today and the success that we're seeing in the present just shows you what you need at a club: consistency and to have that group of players that understand and that can grow together.”
“We've seen this group and the front office have done a fantastic job to build on what foundations were set early in the years,’ he added. “In the last several years, the club has just moved on to be one of the top, top clubs in MLS, which is a credit to everyone that's worked from Day One up until now.”
Dichio has remained at the club this whole time, coaching TFC III, the U-19 team, for the past few years. Though much of the rest of the group has strayed far and wide, they still share a bond from the special memories of those early days.
“I saw Marvell [Wynne] recently, just at the end of last year he came into town. I’ve seen Edson [Buddle] a couple of times and even guys that we played against, Chicago and even Kansas in the first game,” said Dichio. “We recollect and talk about those crazy early years, not only for Toronto FC, but it was still a pretty young league back in those days, MLS.”
The league has changed a lot over the years.
“I remember playing against Jozy at New York Giants Stadium, a really young Jozy Altidore when he was playing for New York Red Bulls and thinking this kid's a promising young player; there's some talent in this in this league,” recalled Dichio. “The quality of play wasn't as high as what it is nowadays, but there was at least two to three players on every team that had good quality. I look back at it now and this lean, young, exciting forward in Jozy was scoring goals and he's gone on to do big things.”
For fans needing a reminder of what those times were like, MLSsoccer is streaming select MLS Classics matches and there is one in particular from 2007 featuring a young Altidore – as well as some guy named David Beckham – scoring some goals very reminiscent to those he would net in Toronto years later.
Where has the time gone?
“It was crazy. Even when we got to the 10-year period and I was like, ‘Wow, that went through like no time.’ And now we're talking about 15 years and in a few years we're going think about our 20th anniversary, where we're now a club with a little bit of history behind us,” said Dichio. “A club that is competing at the Champions League level, but also winning titles, MLS titles, winning Supporters’ Shields, Canada Cup year in, year out. We've definitely shown we're on that right track.”
Friday night’s stream will be a special one for the Dichio family, who will be watching together at home.
“Yes, it's funny. I was telling my family about it and my wife, as I said, was busy packing up and getting stuff ready and doing a great job in bringing the whole Dichio clan across to Canada, and none of them have seen the whole in its entirety, so we're going to make a real big night of it,” said Dichio. “We're going to set up like a Super Bowl dinner, as we would for a Super Bowl. We're going to get chicken wings, we're going to get the popcorn out, have a big spread on and all sit down and watch the game. I'm really excited about it.”
But what everyone wants to know: was he able to keep one of those disks that fell from the sky on that fateful day?
“Oh yes, I have a couple of seat cushions. One from the day that is a little bit worn and tattered and then I managed to get myself a newer version a couple of years ago when the club we're doing a special edition one,” he said. “The original is still my favourite.”
“One of them is in my son Franco's bedroom – he's probably TFC’s number one fan, so he's got a lot of memorabilia in there. And then the worn and tattered one is wrapped up with my other game-worn jerseys and stuff from throughout my career, just to keep it safe.”