Toronto FC: The best team in Canada, but not Canada's team
Canadian players not getting enough opportunity in-game to hone skills
Just in time for the sesquicentennial, a great Canadian moment.
The team, whose supporters changed the fan culture in Major League Soccer, finally gave their long-suffering faithful a reason to make some noise.
Only in Canada, perhaps only in Toronto, would over 36,000 willing souls brave sub-zero temperatures to watch a soccer match and therefore be able to say: "I was there".
I'm a fan. I've been one since childhood. It's the game I grew up with. It's the game I will always love.
Because I'm a fan, I'm thrilled a Canadian team reached the MLS Cup. I'm ecstatic there wasn't an empty seat in the house. I shouldn't care who was and who wasn't on the field. Surely the result is all that really matters.
Except I do care. I care deeply about the fact that this proud Canadian team is short on Canadians.
Very short indeed. Only briefly was there more than one Canadian on the field. Jonathan Osorio started the game only to be replaced by Will Johnson late in the second half. Striker Tosaint Ricketts had to wait until midway through extra time for his opportunity.
This is a team built by Americans, for Americans. There were eight of them in the TFC starting lineup, including captain Michael Bradley. They were selected by an American coach who reports to an American GM who, in turn, takes his cues from an American president.
Don't get me wrong. I have always believed a job in any walk of life should go to the best candidate regardless of age or gender or nationality. It should be no different in professional soccer and it is tough to argue with a team that came within the width of a crossbar of winning all the marbles.
MLS breeds American development
But let's not forget why Major League Soccer exists in the first place. It was created as a condition of the USA hosting the 1994 World Cup. It was set up to develop American players and promote the professional game in the United States.
Developing homegrown players and giving them a place to play inevitably deepens the talent pool and aids the progress of the international team. It is no coincidence Team USA has qualified for every World Cup since the inception of MLS and in three of the last four tournaments has advanced beyond the group stages.
So where are the Canadians? As a matter of fact there are nine of them on TFC's current roster. There are seven more on the Montreal Impact squad. Yet just two Canadians – Will Johnson and Patrice Bernier – made the starting lineups for the Eastern Conference decider between the two clubs at the end of November.
The stats don't lie. The plain fact is that the majority of Canadians who play for Canadian franchises are not being given sufficient opportunity to hone their skills. Young professionals in particular need competitive minutes to build up their experience, something impossible to replicate on a training field.
The long-term effects are clear for all to see. The Canadian talent pool remains ominously shallow and the Canadian team is as far away from qualifying for a World Cup as it has ever been.
Unless or until there is a fully professional league in Canada, this country will continue to ride on the coattails of Major League Soccer and ultimately fail to produce talent in sufficient numbers to rise above international obscurity.
Commiserations Toronto. So tantalizingly near and yet so heartbreakingly far. 2016 was a heck of a ride and after 10 years your club has finally earned the respect it craved. The MLS Cup came this close to staying in Canada but make no mistake; this is not Canada's team.