Canada can be proud of Toronto FC | Soccer | CBC Sports

MLSCanada can be proud of Toronto FC

Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2011 | 01:02 AM

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Toronto FC forward Nick Soolsma controls the ball in front of FC Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu during the second half during their CONCACAF Champions League match Tuesday. TFC won the match 3-0.  (Matt Strasen/Associated Press) Toronto FC forward Nick Soolsma controls the ball in front of FC Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu during the second half during their CONCACAF Champions League match Tuesday. TFC won the match 3-0. (Matt Strasen/Associated Press)

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He didn't need much persuading. When it was over Ashtone Morgan sat in the visitors' dressing room, draped in a Maple Leaf flag he collected from a fan while leaving the field. The night belonged to Toronto FC. The victory belongs to Canada.

He didn't need much persuading. When it was over Ashtone Morgan sat in the visitors' dressing room, draped in a Maple Leaf flag he collected from a fan while leaving the field. The night belonged to Toronto FC. The victory belongs to Canada.

For once, and against most expectations, Toronto FC got the job done. Few gave them a realistic chance of pulling off an improbable road win and advancing to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League. For once it was not business as usual.

Toronto's 3-0 win over FC Dallas was no fluke result. This was a true 90-minute effort by all involved from front to back. How many times in the short history of Toronto FC has the opposing coach freely admitted his players were beaten by the better team? In a nutshell, TFC wanted it more.

It was all there; cohesion, strength, durability, and a cutting edge. Through all the nightmares Aron Winter has endured during his first year in North America, this was the night he dreamed about. Finally he, and we, witnessed a complete performance from a revamped team.

Winter's tinkering pays off

Perhaps it was the best ever. Toronto fans still talk about the night their team beat Cruz Azul in the Champions League last year. Julian de Guzman was only one survivor from that team on the pitch in Frisco - a vivid illustration of Winter's overhaul.

Of course it was only one game. Every dog has its day, so to speak. Maybe FC Dallas got lazy or overconfident, safe in the knowledge Toronto FC would make mistakes sooner or later. Let's face it, TFC road wins are not exactly commonplace.

True - it was one game. But it was also a body of work which got Toronto into that position in the first place. First they had to fend off the Vancouver Whitecaps for the Canadian Championship. Then they had to qualify for the group stages themselves.

Successive losses to FC Dallas and Pumas seemed to have scuppered their chances. Who knew a narrow win over Tauro FC in late September would re-ignite the campaign? A weakened team held on for a crucial point at home to the Mexicans followed by the pièce de résistance in the final game.

The reward is eager anticipation for the fans and an earlier than expected pre-season for the players. The knockout stages are set to kick off in the first week in March - a time of year at which Toronto FC is usually competing at a pre-season tournament in South Carolina.

Perhaps Winter will again take his team to Europe to prepare. Turkey provided the backdrop this year for a series of warm-up games but the Dutchman is facing an unfixable problem. The Champions League quarter-final will be Toronto FC's first competitive game for more than four months. 

His players will be physically fit but not match sharp. It is just another problem for Winter and his coaching staff to try and solve as best they can. Perhaps it is no surprise that in its current format, Mexican teams have won every edition and have provided five of the six finalists since 2008.

Triumph for Canadian soccer

It is a discussion for another day. For now, in a season from which little was expected in terms of success, Toronto FC and its loyal supporters can look upon this as a genuine silver lining. It will ensure Season Six kicks off with renewed hope and anticipation of the road yet to be travelled.

It is also a triumph for Canadian soccer. Toronto has sent a message across the continent to both rivals and tournament organizers. The Canadian champions are not a soft touch at this level. TFC has been to Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico and the U.S. and, in the final analysis, was good enough to make the cut.

It is a start. The Montreal Impact began the legacy in 2008 and now another Canadian team has reached the latter stages of the competition. Given consistency, over time, it gives the Canadian Soccer Association the ammunition it needs to convince CONCACAF that Canada is under-represented in the Champions League.

So while this is squarely Toronto's victory to savour, it is also Canada's to celebrate. We all have club loyalties of course, but for those of us who care about the growth, image and perception of the game in this country, it is a small but significant step in the right direction.

Ashtone Morgan should treasure that Canadian flag. He has tasted success at a young age. Professional soccer is often a short career. Who knows when that feeling will come around again?

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