Toronto FC Breaks into MLS Cup Final on Emotional Night in Front of Home Fans
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Thursday, 01 December 2016 02:21

TORONTO — As the final whistle sounded after 120 minutes of back-and-forth, unpredictable action in the second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Final, 10 years of emotion was let out in booming roars from BMO Field. 

Toronto FC defeated the Montreal Impact 5-2 in the second leg—7-5 on aggregate—to advance to the club's first MLS Cup final. 

"I can’t even explain it," midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. "The supporters have been waiting a long time for this. They deserve it. They’ve stuck around through everything this team’s battled through." 

The years-long frustration of botched big-name signings, countless managerial changes and failures to reach the postseason were let out at times throughout the night when the Reds needed it most, with the biggest cheer coming at the final whistle as Toronto clinched home-field advantage in the MLS Cup. 

"All week we spoke about what tonight could be," captain Michael Bradley said. "Nobody knew for sure, but I think we all had an idea it could be a special night in terms of atmosphere and emotion, in some ways, 10 years of emotion coming out in one night." 

“Once I took a step back in celebration, I took a moment to think about how many people were in both stadiums (over the two legs)," Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said. "And the excitement of the two games, the quantity of goals, the amount of attacking, and back-and-forth, and twists and turns. I can’t imagine the experience of emotions that people went through. For me, [it's] the most exciting playoff event I’ve been a part of."

The rollercoaster ride of emotions for both sides began in the 24th minute, as Montreal opened the scoring out of nowhere through Dominic Oduro. 

After enjoying the better of the possession and chances for most of the first half, Toronto finally capitalized with a pair of goals in eight minutes by way of Armando Cooper and Jozy Altidore. 

A second-leg victory and hosting the MLS Cup final seemed to be in the bag for the Reds at the halftime break, but the resilient Impact disrupted those plans in the 53rd minute, as Ignacio Piatti equalized the contest and put the teams level on away goals in the series. 

Nick Hagglund's powering header off a corner kick from what seemed to be 20 feet in the air gave Toronto a 3-2 lead in the match.

“We were real close," Montreal head coach Mauro Biello said. "They found a way through set pieces to get those goals. And that’s the difference in us going home and them going to the MLS Cup final." 

Despite being ahead by a goal in the match, the Reds knew how slim the margins were in the final 20 minutes between extra time and the end of their season. 

"At 3-2, it was on a knife's edge because we were pushing, but we were the team that was, for the most part, getting chances, but one play going the other way and all of a sudden we have a lot to do," Bradley said.

All the heartbreak experienced since the franchise's inception appeared all too relevant in the 96th minute, as Sebastian Giovinco—the designated player who has brought Toronto FC to new heights alongside Bradley and Altidore—suffered from serious cramps. Vanney later said Giovinco will be in line to start in the final.

The one man the Reds could count on to make something out of nothing and score a series-clinching goal was suddenly off the pitch. 

In any other year, Toronto would've succumbed to the pressure without Giovinco and lost in extra time or penalties, but this isn't the TFC we've come to know so well. This is a different Reds side that has plenty of character and resolve. 

Seconds after Giovinco left the pitch, the player who entered for him, Benoit Cheyrou, sent the entire stadium into a celebration they've never felt before. 

Cheyrou, a French veteran with 17 years of experience, connected with a Steven Beitashour cross at the left post to put the Reds in total control. 

"(Benoit)'s a guy with a ton of experience, and he sniffed out something would come to the back post and it was a great service by Beitashour," Toronto boss Vanney said. "You don’t have to tell too much to guys who have been around the block like (Cheyrou)." 

The entrance of a key veteran player off the bench is also something Toronto lacked in years past, along with a productive collection of designated players. 

Cheyrou produced two assists in 800 minutes in the regular season, but the lack of playing time didn't phase him much as he came off the bench on Wednesday night. 

Vanney also brought in Canadian forward Tosaint Ricketts, who scored the seventh and final goal of the match, and fellow Canadian Osorio in an attempt to further improve the quality on the pitch with fresh legs. 

"That’s something we really worked on over the past year to try and create some depth and also have guys with experience that we could turn to,"  Vanney said. "Different types of players who can bring different things to the equation."

"It’s taken me a little time to get to know how to best use these guys. I think we’re in a position now where we’ve brought in guys who’ve been able to make a difference. It’s a tribute to them because they keep working hard every day." 

The celebrations will go on throughout the night in Ontario, as the reality begins to sink in that the Reds are not only in MLS Cup for the first time, but they're hosting the league's biggest spectacle as well.

Before you rush to crown Toronto as the team of destiny given their struggles in the past, though, you have to look at what the Seattle Sounders have overcome this season to reach the championship match. 

Although the Reds have suffered for much longer without time in the playoffs, the Sounders have searched for the coveted prize for years and have come up short in every way possible.

Under new boss Brian Schmetzer, the Sounders have turned into a different team from the one that crashed and burned through July under former manager Sigi Schmid. 

In 10 days' time, the same fans will pack BMO Field for what will once again be deemed the biggest match in Toronto FC and Canadian soccer history. Toronto's stars will once again be asked to shine against a talented opponent with no fear. 

If the result is the same on December 10, the celebrations will be even louder in Toronto, but the focus has to turn quickly to the Sounders and what they'll bring to the table before the ideas of a parade in the Canadian city can be imagined. 

“This is a great moment for this club, but everybody in this room wants one more victory," Osorio said. 


Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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