By Nick Scicolone (@Nicky_Futbol)
Name a duo more deadly than Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore? I’ll wait. Here’s another one: name a MLS club that’s been more exciting to support this year than Toronto? The correct answer: there is none. Toronto FC’s ridiculously sweaty roster scores goals at will and has produced the most attractive playing style in Major League Soccer. In a year dominated by media coverage of offense-obsessed sides, I’m looking at you Atlanta, Toronto has stolen the show. In 2017, the Reds have lifted their first supporters shield, captured another Canadian championship, and celebrated a well-deserved Eastern Conference championship win against Columbus. Now Canada’s top club is on its way to the MLS Cup Final. Toronto FC could be the first MLS side ever to claim a treble. Not bad for a club that had failed to make the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons before the signing of Jozy and Seba.
Behind the team that has dominated this season since opening day, scoring 85 goals in the process, are the Great White North’s wildest fans. And by wild, we mean “would wrestle a grizzly bear if it supported Montreal” wild. The Toronto FC faithful can be found standing every game in the “Southend,” located in sections 112 to 118. If you aren’t standing, chugging a Molson and waving your TFC flag (all at the same time obviously), you’re going to get some weird looks.
Earlier this season, I managed to speak with Phil Tobin, President of Toronto FC’s Red Patch Boys. Want to find out more about this incredibly diverse, passionate and accepting group of Torontonians? Thinking about losing your voice up in the stands at BMO Field? Check out my exclusive Cooligans interview with the Red Patch Boys down below. Montreal fans: you have been warned.
Nick: Toronto FC became the first Canadian team in the MLS to win the Supporters Shield after an entertaining 4-2 stomping of the Red Bulls. How does it feel to finally be at the top of the table and make soccer history?
Phil: It’s been pretty unbelievable to be a part of this. If you look at the history of Toronto FC, we’ve always been a middle-of-the-pack type of team. We struggled for a lot of years as a club and it was always a distant dream for any TFC supporter to actually one day raise a major MLS trophy. It was a real “pinch me” moment when it actually happened. We made a real impression last year in the MLS with the talented roster we had, but this year has been radically different. We aren’t the underdogs anymore. We are a trophy winning side and people expect us to win.
Justin Morrow is, without any doubt, a freak of nature. He’s a wingback scoring hat tricks in front of 28,000 people at BMO field in Toronto. That isn’t a common thing to do for a player of that position. Did the supporters of TFC expect this kind of performance from Justin this late in the season?
I don’t think anybody expected Justin to come through with three goal game performances this late in the season. However, he’s always been a defender capable of scoring a goal, this is something we’ve seen all season long. The guy is always a threat on the ball, has a wicked shot and great placement. Its enabled him to play forward an awful lot, especially with our structure and organizational philosophy on the field. Justin knows when to push and where to be at all times. Yet, It’s an abnormality for a wingback to charge up the pitch and score goals, but it isn’t out of character to see Justin Morrow daring to be different. The entire team feels comfortable working with each other and this allows players like Justin to take chances. Off the field Justin does a lot of work within the community, he’s been a great fit for Toronto in general.
Let’s talk supporters culture. The Red Patch Boys have only existed for a decade but have managed to change the face of soccer in Toronto. How did the supporters group come into existence and manage to take over in Canada’s most populous city?
When you look at Toronto and the city’s demographics there’s a high concentration of immigrants here. A lot of different cultures have come in and made the area a big melting pot. When Toronto FC was announced, you saw an immediate response from people in the city to the team and the subculture of supporters quickly followed. We started getting together to talk about forming a group that would sit together and support the team every weekend. The project went from ten or twelve guys chatting over the internet to a historic max of 1,000 members. Multiple supporters groups have spawned out of this movement, including the expansion of the Southend to U-Sector, Inebriatti and others. All six current supporters groups work together to support this team all season long.
What is life as a supporter in “the bunker” like? Has this legendary supporters section changed in style with the club’s recent success?
Each supporters group has their own style of doing things within the bunker and Southend. It’s definitely become more intense, but it’s always a blast for the fans. You get a lot of everything: banter, singing and constant reactions to the players on the field. As the season nears the playoffs and each win becomes more crucial for the club, you see people really going above and beyond. Everybody is screaming. Everybody is focused on the game. You know that you won’t have a voice the next day you walk into work. The intensity always dials up as the team gets closer and closer to winning a trophy. No other team in the area’s fan culture comes close to what goes on at a Toronto FC match.
I apologize in advance for this next question: Last season, as we all know, Toronto FC hosted the Seattle Sounders at BMO field for the MLS Cup Final. After 120 minutes played without a single goal on either side, a penalty shootout resulted in Seattle raising the MLS Cup. What was the atmosphere like at the end of the MLS Cup Final in Toronto?
The air had been let out. To have a game of that magnitude be decided without a clear shot on net by the opposition is heartbreaking. Sadly, we know those games all too well. In Canada, penalty shootouts have left us disappointed on multiple occasion. The fans always feel robbed because they wanted to see the players come out and grab the result with actual goals scored as opposed to a few minutes of chaotic penalty kicks. Although the final was a serious let down, I was thankful for the season we had, especially the Eastern Conference Championship against Montreal. That was our real final. Seeing Montreal choke against Toronto FC the way they did filled the supporters with euphoria. In games like that, both teams went for it. Seattle parked the bus but, hey, they got the trophy. That’s all that matters and congrats to them.
Derby time. On a scale of 1 to absolute hatred, what’s the rivalry like with the Montreal Impact? How does Canada’s biggest fixture of the year relate to the complicated relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada?
There’s an extreme dislike of the other side. Although we like to believe there’s a mutual respect between the supporters, both sides can’t stand each other. We are always taking jabs at each other. We are always looking to one up the other side. This rivalry spills into everything the clubs do. When TFC competes for the Canada Cup against Montreal, both clubs want to represent the country in the CONCACAF Champions League. The history of these clubs goes back to before both teams joined the MLS. There are differences in culture, language, political and even ideology. Montreal is a little more European than Toronto, which can always been seen during games. The rivalry reached a new level when TFC played the Impact in the playoffs, especially because both teams had successful seasons. If Toronto and Montreal continue to do well, the rivalry will only get worse because the clubs will meet in the playoffs far more often.
Reports of a new Canadian soccer league, the Canadian Premier League, being established have drawn attention to clubs like Toronto FC. A few clubs have already agreed to join the FIFA-sponsored league. How will newly established Canadian Premier League affect TFC and other Canadian clubs playing in the MLS?
It has always been a goal of any Toronto fan to see the Canadian soccer system grow and develop. As supporters, we feel like TFC has been a stepping stone towards a stronger Canadian soccer identity. We have always praised local Canadian talent and our academy is expanding every year. The Canadian Premier league, acting as a lower division league for the time being, will help to improve youth soccer throughout Canada, especially in non-MLS markets. There’s so many kids playing soccer in Canada nowadays with hockey being so expensive. You see more and more kids coming up through the national system even though it’s nothing close to the Europeans. The focus of the MLS has always been on the US national team’s development, this is something they are very honest about. That’s fine and the TFC supporters aren’t against it, we just need a league that will work to better the Canadian national team. We want to see Canadians in the World Cup because the talent here definitely has the potential to do great things abroad.
I can’t thank you enough for joining us here at Cooligans today. Before I let you go Phil, how confident are the Red Patch Boys that TFC will break the curse of the Supporters Shield? Does the club expect to raise the Toronto’s first ever MLS cup by the end of the year?
We are very confident in this team. The cup final we be played at BMO Field. We have the most intimidating atmosphere in the MLS, plus Toronto’s climate. It’s going to be a very tough game for any team to win. I have no reason to not expect a MLS Cup win not to happen. I think every single Toronto supporter is already thankful for winning the shield. Everything else is the cherry on the cake, a bonus to the amazing season this club has had. We are going to be happy with this team no matter what. We are already the best team in this league and the supporters know that.