Toronto FC entered the league with a bang, and took the league by storm; off the field. The sell-out crowds were well documented; it was something that was seldom seen in North America. People spoke of a passionate crowd that may not have invoked fear in opponents, but certainly rattled many away teams as they entered the field. The fans stood behind their team no matter what, win lose or draw. It was something commonly seen across Europe, a place where the beautiful game features prominently in the lives of a large portion of the population. Europe is a place where the adrenaline rushes, not only because of the on-field product, but because of the atmosphere that surrounds a field that is dwarfed by tens of thousands of supporters. For 90 minutes, nothing mattered to the fans at BMO Field except how their beloved team performed. Now, after a long and tumultuous first season where Toronto FC finished at the bottom of the table, along with an off-season that may have been the cause of random acts of violence across Toronto, the fans of Toronto FC are ready to pack the stands of BMO Field yet again. This time, however, they might actually have reason to sing right into the playoffs.
Patience seems to be something that many people lack in their lives. The saying that “good things come to those who wait” is often pushed under the rug in life, as well as in the sporting world. Rebuilding phases are avoided by many franchises, as the “win now” mentality has spread from the fans right into the front offices of many teams. This was no doubt the case, when it comes to the fans, this summer in Toronto. The lack of quality additions to an already poor team brought about calls for Mo Johnston’s head, as Toronto FC was torn apart in the media and by the fans. Multiple trialists came through; they were hastily let in and then thrown out almost as quickly. It drove fans crazy. The first game was slowly approaching, and some people jumped to conclusions, while others took a more logical approach, and saw that help would in fact be on the way. They knew that it would be just a matter of time.
The season started off disappointingly, as 2500+ fans traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to watch the season opener. The expectations were low; however the fans were still out in full voice. “To see 2500 fans travel down to Columbus for the opener...that was fantastic. It certainly didn’t go unnoticed,” said Todd Dunivant.
When the final whistle blew, a massive sigh of displeasure could be heard across Crew Stadium. Toronto FC had lost, 2-0, and with no new additions in sight, the Reds were in trouble. More fuel had been added to the fire, and the optimists were becoming harder to find.
Toronto then traveled to Washington DC, along with a few hardcore fans, only to get destroyed by DC United. The 4-1 loss was one of the worst displays in the short history of the club. Hardly any positives could be taken from this thrashing, except for one thing. The addition of Frenchman Laurent Robert, whose quality was evident throughout the entire first half, in the form of multiple pin-point crosses and dangerous runs. Nevertheless, Toronto fans remained relatively reserved. The excitement over the club’s biggest-ever signing brought about joy within the fan-base, but they knew that more help would have to arrive, and soon.
Well, Toronto FC will play their home opener this Saturday, and most people will agree that support has indeed arrived.
The signings of Rohan Ricketts, Amado Guevara and the previously mentioned Laurent Robert have given Toronto one of the better midfields in the league. Two of Toronto’s newest faces were on the pitch last weekend, when the Reds clawed their way to a 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy. It was a match played in harsh conditions, as an almost unbearable heat had swept over Los Angeles. The well-trained Reds from Toronto were clearly fit, which is a testament to Paul Winsper, Toronto FC’s fitness guru, and coach John Carver. When the season reaches its conclusion, the fans may look back at the 2008 season and agree that Carver may have indeed been the most significant addition to the team.
Defender Todd Dunivant speaks very highly of Carver, and was happy to comment on how Carver has influenced the team this season. “JC has been great for us...he's instilled a work ethic in the team that will pay dividends, game in, game out. He wants us to press and make the other team uncomfortable. Our passing has improved. We work on that every day. He's as fair a coach as I've ever had. He gives you plenty of credit when it's due, and he lays down the hammer when he needs to. He won't let you get away with laziness or taking even a single play off. That type of mentality will be huge for us, and it will translate into a lot of success.”
Carver has helped change Toronto FC in a considerable way since that depressing March day in Columbus. What was then a team that struggled to move the ball forward is now a team that plays a new brand of football. The win in Los Angeles was evidence of this.
“I think the biggest difference in the LA game was how we approached it. We went in there looking for a result and played accordingly. On the road, it takes a different mentality and mindset to come away with points, and we had that against LA,” said Dunivant. “We defended as a team and were opportunistic with our chances. That's a winning formula on the road.”
The new additions to the team have given Toronto a giant boost, especially Amado Guevara, who played with Dunivant in New York. “Amado was phenomenal in his first game. He met us in LA, practiced with the team on Saturday, and played on Sunday. So there wasn't much time to prepare, but with a player like Amado he calms things down on the field and does a great job of keeping possession for us. He is that attacking player that we've been looking for.”
As a fan, you look at what Todd Dunivant has said, and wonder. What might Amado Guevara be able to do when he gets comfortable with the team that surrounds him? Excuse me while I attempt to wipe the enormous smile off of my face. I think he might do well, very well.
Laurent Robert also made a significant impact for the Reds in Los Angeles. He may not be match fit, however his ability to create chances off of set pieces contributed to TFC’s win. “Robert adds a nice little dimension to the team, with his left foot (I'm biased there) and free kicks. You saw that against LA on our second goal,” says Dunivant.
That goal was Jarrod Smith’s first career MLS goal. Smith is one of a handful of rookies who could potentially make an impact with the first team this season, along with Julius James, Pat Phelan and Brian Edwards. According to Todd, “All of the rookies have been exceptional.” Even though Smith impressed in LA, he may not start. Rohan Ricketts is looking to make his debut, in Smith’s place, for the Reds this weekend, now that he finally has his papers sorted out. Ricketts is a player with dynamic pace, and the ability to change a game with his skill on the ball. Link him up with Marvell Wynne, and watch something special happen. We’ll all be watching in anticipation this weekend.
This Saturday will be the beginning of another season at BMO Field, and Todd Dunivant wanted to make sure that we as fans understand how much of a difference we make. When asked whether or not fans matter, Dunivant said “Does fan support matter? It's huge! What player wouldn't want to play in front of a sold out crowd every week. And not only that, it's a knowledgeable crowd. They are loud. They make it uncomfortable for the opposition. And they make it fun for us. Who wouldn't love that!”
I think it’s pretty clear that we do matter.
Toronto’s opponent this Saturday will be Real Salt Lake, a team that has exceeded many people’s expectations early on this season. Thanks to some fantastic performances by team leader Kyle Beckerman, who has scored two goals, RSL is coming north of the border with a 1-1-1 record, most recently defeating DC United 4-0. This will not be a walk in the park for TFC, but I have confidence that a win will be celebrated this weekend. What a difference three weeks makes!
The patience looks to have finally paid off.