The early days of Toronto FC were easy for local soccer fans to get excited about.
A new team, respectably-named, playing in a sparkling new urban soccer stadium and an instant supporter culture of diehard fans. There was an unbridled optimism around the team in those early days.
Five losing seasons later, Toronto FC’s existence can be summed up as wasted opportunity.
The club’s surprising success drawing fans in its first year, which now seems so very long ago, took all but the most ardent Canadian soccer supporters by surprise. The city of Toronto unexpectedly rallied behind their new team, making BMO Field the place to be on a summer afternoon.
But under the disastrous command of Mo Johnston, most of that unbridled enthusiasm went to waste. TFC has never flirted with elite status, failing to make the playoffs in five years. Naturally, the enthusiasm for the club in the city has been tempered by their poor play on the field. For casual fans, the team’s struggles have been cause for apathy.
That’s what makes this Wednesday’s Champions League match against the Los Angeles Galaxy so important. On Wednesday, the club has a chance to deliver a message to the fans of this city: we’ve changed, seriously.
The buzz for this match is impressive, with over 40,000 fans set to pile in to Rogers Centre, the most ever to witness a TFC home game. It’s a credit to the organization that they see the match as a brand-building opportunity rather than a one-off payday, and priced it as such.
Now, with an atmosphere that’s sure to be electric, it’s up to the organization to prove their optimistic supporters true on the pitch: things are headed in the right direction and that this is the best roster ever assembled by Toronto FC.
It won’t be easy. The Galaxy, reigning MLS Cup Champions, are bolstered by star forward Landon Donovan, who is coming off of another successful loan to Everton, experienced striker Robbie Keane, and the return of David Beckham, coming off of his best MLS season to date.
The game itself is important. If the club wants to show they’re serious, they need a good result — particularly with the second leg taking place in L.A.
But in some ways, Wednesday’s match is about more than the game itself; it represents a crossroads of how far TFC has come and where it is going. With the attention the team’s been able to garner for this match, anything less than a positive result could set its damaged public perception further back.
Even with crowds dwindling in recent years, Toronto’s clearly proven that it will embrace this team.
On Wednesday, Toronto FC needs to give them a reason to get excited again.