Wow what a weekend of Soccer – first the MLS Cup was everything a Championship is supposed to be. Sold out crazy Toronto Crowd, best TV Ratings for an MLS Finals in years, tons of shots, exciting end to end soccer, great goalkeeping – and in the end – the better team won a deserved Championship as Toronto sealed the greatest season in MLS history (they won 3 cups). Yes I am Seattle fan – have always loved me some Dempsey but honestly this was a game that Toronto had to win. They simply outplayed Seattle in every phase except goalkeeping. (Seattle’s Stefan Frei was simply spectacular especially in the 1st half). Toronto had 22 shots, 11 on goal and almost 65% possession – Bradley played his best game with 65 passes completed (92%) and he dominated the defensive midfield. Good to see Altidore (the 1st goal scorer) and Bradley (MVP of game) and Giovinco finally win it all.
Then it was Derby day in England as #1 Man City faced #2 Man United at Old Trattford and wow City showed their class with a huge 2-1 win. Again City outplayed Man U overall but the City keeper made a series of spectacular saves late or it ends in a tie. End to end however and great soccer overall- I certainly hope they didn’t battle in the tunnel after like reports are saying – but no question this rivalry is as intense as ever.
Indiana University advanced to their record 19th College Cup winning on Friday night vs UNC and Carmel product Cameron Findley before bowing to 2-time defending Champions Stanford in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in overtime on Sunday. Still a great season for IU. Also huge CONGRATS to Carmel High’s own Eric Dick – Butler Junior GK for being named both 2nd Team All American, Big East GK of the year and 1st Team Scholar Athlete this week!
The Champions League draw has been made for the Knockout Stages (Sweet 16) and boy do we get some dooseys! Just look at this line-up with Barcelona vs Chelsea and Real Madrid vs PSG. That’s 4 potential Final 4 teams that are squaring off way too early. Games to be played Feb. 13, 14, 20 and 21 and March 5, 6, 12, 13
Champs League Sweet 16
Juventus vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Basel vs. Manchester City
Porto vs. Liverpool
Sevilla vs. Manchester United
Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma
Chelsea vs. Barcelona
Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas
Big games this weekend include US Nat defender Deandre Yedlin and New Castle traveling to Arsenal at 10 am Sat on NBCSN, also Sat Man City puts its 15 game winning streak on the line while hosting Tottenham at 12:20 on NBCSN. Also Real Madrid looks for its 5th trophy this year as they face Brazilian team Gremio in the FIFA World Club Final on Sat at 12 noon on Telemundo. Next week midweek gives us English, German and Italian Cup games including US Star Pulisic’s Dortmund facing Bayern Munich on Wed at 2:45 on ESPN2 and Juventus vs Genoa at 2:45 on GolTV.
Finally – Carmel FC is introducing a cool new “STREET SOCCER” concept this winter at Off the Wall in Carmel for 10 weeks starting in Jan. Rather than a league – we will have a very little supervision “street soccer” Environment where kids can feel free to take risks, try new things, develop creativity and learn to organize and communicate themselves with just one of the Director’s Jeurgen or Matt Coyer or another senior CFC coach on hand. CFC players — To Sign up Click – CFC Winter STREET SOCCER at OFF THE WALL – Winter Player’s League Schedule
- Friday U8- U10 / Field 1 – 5:50pm, 6:40pm, 7:30pm
- Friday: U8- U10 / Field 2 – 6:15pm, 7:05pm, 7:55pm
- Saturday: U11 – U12 / Field 1 – 12:00pm, 12:50pm
- Saturday: U11- U12 / Field 2 – 12:25pm, 1:15pm
- Sunday:U13 – U14 / Field 1 – 12:00pm, 12:50pm
- Sunday: U13- U14 / Field 2 – 12:25pm, 1:15pm
IU Final Game – College Cup
Stanford wins 3rd title in double OT – USA Today
Toronto’s Bradley Repays the Faith in Him – Castillo – MLS.com
GAMES ON TV
Tues, Dec 12
2:30 pm FS1 Mainz vs Dortmund (Pulisic)
3 pm NBCSN Huddersfield Town (Johnson) vs Chelsea
Wed, Dec 13
12 noon Telemundo Al Jazira vs Real Madrid FIFA WORLD CLUB CUP 2:30 pm FS1 Bayern Munich vs Koln
2:45 pm NBCSN Swansea vs Man City
3 pm Universal? West Ham vs Arsenal
3 pm NBC Sports Gold Liverpool vs West Brom + 5 other games?
Sat, Dec 16
7:30 am NBCSN Leicester City vs Crystal Palace
9:30 am FS1 Bayern Munich vs Stuttgart
10 am NBCSN Arsenal vs New Castle United (Yedlin)
12 noon Telemundo ??? vs Real Madrid FIFA WORLD CLUB Final
12:20 pm NBCSN Man City vs Tottenham
Sun, Dec 17
9 am beIN Sport Bologna vs Juventus
9:15am NBCSN West Brom vs Man United
9:30 am FS1 Hannover vs Bayer Leverkusen
11:30 am NBCSN AFV Bournemouth vs Liverpool
2:45 pm beIN Sports Barcelona vs Deportivo La Coruna
Tues, Dec 19
2:45 pm FS1 Arsenal vs West Ham – League Cup
2:45 pm? Leicester vs Man City – League Cup
Wed, Dec 20
12:30 pm ESPN Des Borussia MGladbach (Johnson) vs Bayer Leverkusen – German Cup
2:45 pm ESPN2 Bayern Munich vs Dortmund (Pulisic) – German Cup
2:45 pm Gol TV Juventus vs Genoa Italian Cup
Fri, Dec 22
2:45 pm NBCSN Arsenal vs Liverpool
Sat, Dec 23
7 am beIN Sport Real Madrid vs Barcelona – El Classico
7:30 am NBCSN Everton vs Chelsea
10 am NBCSN ? Man City vs Bournemouth
12:30 pm NBCSN Burnley vs Tottenham
2:45 pm ??? Leicester City vs Man United
Tues, Dec 26
7:30 am NBCSN Tottenham vs Southhampton
12:30 pm NBCSN? Liverpool vs Swansea
Weds, Dec 27
2:45 pm NBCSN New Castle (Yedlin) vs Man City
Thurs, Dec 28
3 pm NBCSN Crystal Palace vs Arsenal
Sat, Dec 30
10 am NBCSN Chelsea vs Stoke City
10 am NBCSN ? Liverpool vs Leicester City
12:30 pm NBCSN Man united vs Southampton
Sun, Dec 31
7 am NBCSN Crystal Palace vs Man City
11;30 am NBCSN West Brom vs Arsenal
Mon, Jan 1
10 am NBCSN Burnley vs Liverpool
12:30 pm NBCSN Everton vs Man United
Tues, Jan 2
2:45 pm NBCSN Swansea vs Tottenham
Wed, Jan 3
2:45 pm NBCSN Arsenal vs Chelsea
IU men’s soccer’s defensive error gives Stanford national championship in overtime
Teddy Bailey, Special for IndyStarPublished 3:32 p.m. ET Dec. 10, 2017 | Updated 5:17 p.m. ET Dec. 10, 2017
CHESTER, Pa. — Indiana’s quest for a ninth national championship will continue.After 103 minutes of a scoreless draw, Stanford’s Sam Werner chipped the ball over the head of IU goalkeeper Trey Muse, as the Hoosiers fell 1-0 in double overtime of the 2017 College Cup Final. It was Stanford’s third consecutive national championship.Werner’s goal was created by a turnover from IU freshman forward Griffin Dorsey. After intercepting a Stanford pass, Dorsey lost possession by making a cut upfield. Werner took the ball and quickly placed a chip above the reach of Muse to hand Stanford its third consecutive NCAA title.“It’s a tough one,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “Griff thought he had a little window to make the play. The kid finished it really well. It won’t be our focus certainly, but it’s one that we’ll learn from. The overtime is tough, it’s so sudden. We felt really good heading into that period.”Sunday’s crushing loss left the Hoosiers speechless. Indiana completed an undefeated regular season and compiled 18 shutouts in 25 games — breaking records and sitting atop national rankings for the majority of the year. Despite those achievements, the Hoosiers missed out on a pair of Big Ten championships (regular season and tournament) — as well as the elusive ninth national title.“Our guys had a special year,” Yeagley said. “We often say the best mark you can leave is putting the star on the jersey (in the team’s logo, one for each national title). We were really close today. But I do know that this team will be talked about for many years to come on what they did.”The Hoosiers played on their heels for the majority of regulation, although Indiana appeared to have newfound momentum after surviving 90 minutes against Stanford. Muse was only needed on five occasions for saves, including a crucial 65th minute save to prolong the match.Stanford forward Austin Langsdorf found a striding Corey Baird right in front of Muse’s line — instinctively, Muse was there to stop the shot with his body and give the Hoosiers life.Indiana also avoided an early deficit in the 11th minute, as Muse made a stellar save by diving to his right and stopping Bryce Marion’s shot with one hand.Stanford’s defensive press troubled IU’s attack. The Hoosiers were held without a shot on goal until the 70th minute — which resulted in a weak header from Dorsey.“They did a great job with their press,” IU’s Cory Thomas said. “It took us out of what we like to do. We had to adapt a little bit to play like they were. I think we were good at adapting, but today just wasn’t good enough. Congrats to Stanford, they played very well today.”The Hoosiers will graduate a trio of seniors from this College Cup team, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Grant Lillard and forward Rashad Hyacenth. Following the Stanford goal, Hyacenth was seen on one knee until the Hoosiers left the field.“This team did so many things but was a bit short,” Yeagley said. “It’s a goal to put a trophy in the case or a star on the jersey, but it doesn’t define it. I know they’re going to know that they carried on a special tradition at Indiana. It’s going to take a while to feel that, but I know they will.”
Altidore, Bradley ease their heartbreak by leading Toronto to historic MLS Cup
Dec 10, 2017Jeff CarlisleSoccer
TORONTO — Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley have been teammates on a number of nights. As both players navigated their way through various national teams, there have been emotional peaks and valleys. It was fitting then that in a year filled with both extremes, the two finished on a high in leading Toronto FC to its first MLS Cup triumph, a 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders.Bradley was everywhere in leading Toronto to a dominating performance. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bradley connected on 65 of 71 passes, while making 5 tackles, 6 clearances and 4 interceptions. He was part of a harassing midfield that never let Seattle breathe. “He stifled them,” said Altidore of Bradley. “Before they even looked he was there. I was telling guys on the bench his bald head was everywhere.”Altidore had to be a bit more patient. It seemed like everyone was getting chances but him, with Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez getting some good looks only to be denied by the brilliance of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei. But when Altidore was presented with one chance, he made the most of it, taking a pass from Giovinco and lifting the ball over Frei for the eventual game winner. In the process, it washed away the bitter taste of losing last year’s final to Seattle in the same venue.”To every single guy who has been a part of this road, this journey for the last year, it’s incredible,” Bradley said. “To cap it off [Saturday] in the way that we did, to play the way that did with everything on the line, with all the supposed pressure on our shoulders, I’m so f—ing proud.”The fact that Altidore and Bradley were able to share the moment made it even more special. The two first met in 2004 when Bradley was exiting the U.S. residency for the U17 national team in Bradenton, Florida. Altidore was just arriving on the scene as a 14-year-old. Altidore recalled that the two clicked right away over their shared passion for the game.”He’s exactly what he is now,” Altidore said of Bradley. “He had more hair, but he was just so serious, so professional, and he was  years old.””We saw in each other that we loved the game, we were into it, we were serious, we wanted to win,” Bradley said. “And since then we’ve had so many experiences together. He’s a brother to me.”It was just two months ago that the duo shared a different kind of experience, the U.S. men’s national team’s soul-crushing failure to qualify for next summer’s World Cup. Both players have been front and center for the invective that has been directed at the team. The role the two played in Saturday’s triumph will no doubt lead to plenty of “Where was that two months ago?” reactions.But sports, this one in particular, don’t work that way. A performance in a game can’t be called up on command. While the residual anger of U.S. fans is understandable, it’s still impressive that both players found a way to move on from the emotional blow and lead Toronto to the title.Moving between club and national team commitments requires intense compartmentalization. Bradley insisted that doing so isn’t a process but a switch that must be flipped.”There are moments when things are going well for your national team and not your club, things are going well for your club but not for your national team,” Bradley said. “Especially for me as captain, I have a huge responsibility that nothing carries over. I give everything I have in a given moment for the team that I’m playing on, and then when it’s time to switch gears, I switch gears like that.”When we got back from Trinidad, I said that it wouldn’t be fair to any person here — our teammates, our coaches, our fans, any people part of this club — if we brought the anger, frustration or heartbreak over, because this team this year has been like nothing that I’ve ever been a part of just in terms of a group of guys together with the coaches, the staff with everybody upstairs at the club who were just so single-minded.”Creating mental distance from what happened in Trinidad was helped by the physical distance from their home country. In fact, Canada might as well have been a world away. And the support the two have received from Toronto’s fans has helped both players move forward. Saturday was the chance to pay them back.”It’s not easy,” said Altidore of shedding the national team disappointment. “But these fans made it easy by the way they supported us. They did sympathize with what happened, and they’ve just been terrific. To give them a night like this, it means everything.”That is not to say that such memories will be erased. But now both players can celebrate a historic victory and share the first treble in MLS history.”You’re not guaranteed anything. I’ve lived that on many different occasions,” Bradley said. “But when push comes to shove, I want this guy next to me every single time.”
Boehm: Toronto FC “checked all the boxes” for best MLS team ever
December 10, 20177:49PM ESTCharles BoehmContributor
TORONTO – Winning a major trophy is an achievement. Winning three in one year is exceptional. Marching through your parity-ruled league with a mere five league losses out of 34 is special. And doing it all just five years after one of your own star players dubbed you, with good reason, “the worst team in the world?”That’s greatness.After a calendar’s worth of dominance in all competitions, Toronto FC dropped the mic at a feverish BMO Field on Saturday – doing not merely what was required to hoist the 2017 MLS Cup and complete their unprecedented treble, but producing a definitive encomium of what they’ve done and who they are.“On the biggest night, with everything on the line, to play the way that we did, to go after it the way we did, to dominate the way we did, I’m so proud of our team,” said captain Michael Bradley in a champagne-soaked TFC locker room post-game.“We set out this year to win. To win everything. To win every game, to win every trophy, and we came damn close to winning every game and we did win every trophy. And so I’m so proud of that and we’re going to enjoy this, we’re going to celebrate this, and when the dust settles in the next few days we’re going to get ready to do it again – with the addition of [CONCACAF] Champions League next year.”Playmaker Victor Vazquez, his exquisite technique and vision made even more influential than usual by TFC’s shift to a diamond midfield, was blunt about the extent of his team’s mastery against the defending champions from Seattle.“We put four players in the middle and they [Seattle] were lost. They didn’t know what to do,” said the Spaniard, revealing that his Sounders countryman Victor Rodriguez admitted as much as they walked into the locker rooms at intermission.“He was saying, ‘We don’t know what to do, because it was a surprise for us,’” said Vazquez. “This is what we wanted to do. We did it. We played 100 times better than them. They didn’t create almost any chance, and we were I think too good for them, and we showed it.”The months upon months and pages upon pages of speculation about where this incredible team ranks in MLS’ two-plus decades of history? The Reds brought down the curtain – brought down the house, in fact – on that conversation.“There are no questions about it,” said midfielder Marky Delgado. “We made history, we won three trophies this year. I mean, what else do you want? We’ve answered all these questions with our work on the field, and with the results on the field. There’s no more to be said.”Marky is right – and if anyone has a depth of perspective on the highs and lows of this league, it’s the man who suffered through some truly lean years as a teenage Homegrown Player with Chivas USA (RIP). But words are my job, just like completing passes, creating turnovers and generally blanketing the midfield is his and Bradley’s, so I’ll try to leave no stone unturned. 1990s D.C. United? That was a great team with exceptional personality, and they set the standard for an infant league. Yet they were not as deep nor as well-rounded as TFC, nor were they tested to the same degree.The Houston Dynamo team that went back to back in 2006 and 2007? A rugged and extremely close-knit group, but one with only a fraction of the attacking class and tactical fluidity of these Reds.The Galaxy sides of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane? LA set a new bar for MLS, with three MLS Cups in four years. They were overly dependent on their stars, however, and perennially mailed it in when it came to the US Open Cup.No, TFC deserve to be labeled as MLS’ GOAT, and with gusto. And as Bradley hinted, it’s quite possible that in the near future they will put some distance between themselves and the rest of the field.“I’m the first one to say that I think it’s the greatest team ever,” said head coach Greg Vanney, himself a member of some extremely good LA Galaxy sides in the league’s early years. “That will be probably a debate and there will be other people who will say other teams were. But nobody has accomplished what this team has accomplished historically: every championship along the way, set a points record, the quality and the way this group went about their business over the course of the season. And we’re not done yet.“We still have things in front of us that we want to continue to achieve. So we’re still writing that story. But for now, in terms of seasons, I think we had the greatest season in the history of the league. I don’t think that’s debatable.”This league’s lifetime has featured such enormous variety in style, quality, and circumstances that comparisons between eras can be a slippery, deeply subjective process. But on Saturday night, in front of their devoted, expectant home support, the Reds added one more set of hard numbers to their hefty library of data, while also passing anyone and everyone’s eye test for aesthetics.“Now there’s no question,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, scarlet-colored champagne-protection goggles akimbo on his head. “Now there’s no question. We’re the first team to do the treble, most points in a regular season, and all those questions should be silenced at this point. There’s no doubt about it. We went out and proved it tonight, played them off the field from minute one to minute 90. We showed that we’re the best team this year and to me, we answered all the questions.“We checked all the boxes.”
Toronto FC’s MLS Cup Win Was a Year in the Making, Earned It a Championship Unlike Any Other
Toronto FC march to the 2017 MLS Cup was paved by its past failures—and that made Saturday all the better. By BRIAN STRAUS December 09, 2017 SI
TORONTO—Championships are binary—either you win or you don’t—but they come in assorted sizes, textures and orders of magnitude. The nature of the ending depends on the story. In its 22 seasons, MLS has crowned different kinds of champions, and none should have to apologize for their story or feel less like a titlist because they sneaked into the playoffs on the final day, got a lucky bounce or, in the case of last season’s conquerors, won the final without taking a shot on goal. Rules are rules, and champions are champions. But there has never been an MLS champion like 2017’s Toronto FC, which turned the tables on last year’s victor, the Seattle Sounders, with a resounding and cathartic 2-0 win in Saturday’s MLS Cup final. This title was about more than what transpired at TFC’s BMO Field. It was a culmination of an historic pursuit for glory and redemption that began with the agonizing memory of your choosing, whether it was the eight seasons of ineptitude that preceded the club’s first playoff berth in 2015, or the penalty-kick shootout loss to Seattle last year. And it capped off the most glittering campaign in league history, as the trophy that captain Michael Bradley lifted Saturday was TFC’s third of 2017. They are the first to win the Supporters’ Shield, their domestic cup and MLS Cup in a single season. Twelve predecessors managed two-thirds of that triple crown. None completed it. There’s a large red placard standing around six feet tall hanging just inside the entrance to TFC’s locker room. It lists the club’s goals for 2017 and includes more granular aims like the number of shutouts or road points that coach Greg Vanney wanted his team to achieve. Then at the bottom, there’s the foundation—the mission propping up the whole season: the treble. “I’m the first to say, I think this is the greatest team ever,” Vanney proclaimed in his postgame press conference. “Nobody has accomplished what this team has accomplished. … We still have things in front of us that we want to continue to achieve. We’re still writing this story. But in terms of seasons, I think we had the greatest season in the history of the league and I don’t think that’s debatable.” If TFC continues to conquer, it’s hard to imagine it doing so in more of a storybook fashion. Because, as stated, titles take on different meanings depending on the journey and context. The Reds will move forward as a juggernaut—a North American soccer Goliath with even more money to spend and designs on winning the CONCACAF Champions League. That contrasts with Saturday’s game, which they entered on a more personal, compelling kind of mission. The toll, intensity and meaning of that odyssey were evident in Bradley’s words as he spoke following Saturday’s win. He came to TFC in 2014, feeling like he’d been treated as surplus by AS Roma and hoping, after eight years in Europe and in the prime of his career, to put a club on his shoulders and change a culture. He found that opportunity in Toronto, was determined to make the most of it and was the best player on the field in last season’s MLS Cup final. Then he missed his penalty in the tiebreaker In an emotional Instagram post a couple days later, Bradley wrote, “Dreams shattered. Tears shed. But its not finished. It doesn’t end like this. … The pain and heartbreak of the last two days have made one thing very clear. I’ve never been more proud to call TFC my club and Toronto my home. Together our time will come.” He’s said several times this season that TFC’s mission began the following morning as they gathered at the club’s training facility just north of the city. They would commit to everyday excellence. They would dominate the competition, redeem themselves and pay back the fans who initially stood with a bad team, then stood behind a beaten one. “We had to lift this trophy. It has been an obsession for the last 364 days,” Bradley said Saturday night. “There’s no other word for it than ‘obsession’. It’s hard to describe to people on the outside what it’s been like to live that every day—to live that in the beginning of preseason when it feels like years away from a game, let alone a playoff game, let alone a final. … To cap it off tonight, in the way that we did, to play the way that we did with everything on the line—with all the supposed pressure on our shoulders—I’m so f***ing proud.” In last year’s final, Toronto was frustrated and unfortunate. On Saturday, they played the sort of soccer you draw on a pregame whiteboard. TFC was at its best in the biggest moment, overwhelming the Sounders with precision (controlling 57% of possession) and power (winning more than 70% of its duels). Seattle made the Reds work for the goal—particularly goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the 2016 MLS Cup MVP who was just as spectacular in the rematch. And maybe a more fragile team lets Frei worm his way into its collective head. But TFC had spent an entire season fixated, and wasn’t going to lose the plot at the very end. “After a year … like that, you just have to say, ‘Keep your foot on the gas and keep trying to create chances, and don’t be afraid you’re going to give something up in your endeavor to try and go win the game,” Vanney said, adding that one of the club’s preseason mantras was “Be Bold.” Vanney said, “Nobody wins anything by being afraid.” His 4-4-2, which evolved seamlessly into a 3-5-2 with Bradley as the withdrawn conductor when TFC had possession, moved the ball with ease and left Seattle chasing shadows across the BMO pitch. Bradley was the game’s architect—“His bald head was everywhere,” TFC’s Jozy Altidore said —and Altidore was named its MVP thanks to his well-taken winning goal in the 67th minute. The striker said that when he watches games, even for study purposes, he always takes notice of the celebrations. He looks into the crowd. And he admitted that he still recalls the faces of the TFC faithful after Seattle’s Román Torres buried the clinching penalty last year. On Saturday, Altidore said, what he saw was “just euphoria.” Players keep track of this kind of thing. Or at least they do in Toronto.
“These people, they suffered a long time. They came to watch games where their team was being dominated,” Altidore said. “Even in those years, they’re still averaging 20,000-22,000 fans per game. … This night was for them. They’ve been the driving force for all this, even before we came here.” Said Bradley, “The response of our fans and the response of this city last year after we lost was like nothing I’ve ever seen. They could’ve pointed fingers. They could’ve said, ‘You guys blew it. You had [the final] at home and you couldn’t take care of business.’ But the response in the days, and weeks and months after was so unique and so different than what you would typically expect. People were so proud. “To see the way they treated us and the way they wrapped their arms around us after last year— we wanted to win regardless, but we wanted it so much more after that,” he concluded. “To give them their night. Their moment.” There were tense times on Saturday, to be sure. You could hear it in certain subdued moments. But BMO Field erupted when Altidore scored. Bradley said he knew TFC had it at that point. And the packed stadium on the shores of Lake Ontario shook again when Spanish midfielder Víctor Vázquez—a massive, season-altering winter addition—doubled the lead during stoppage time. That was the sound of catharsis, and it made the story even sweeter. “Last year we said you made us believe. This year fulfill all of our dreams,” the pregame tifo hanging in the stadium’s south end read. Those dreams deferred made this particular championship feel a bit different than others. This TFC project began in earnest in 2014. GM Tim Bezbatchenko had joined the club the previous fall and together with former Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke, he helped bring Bradley to Toronto. Vanney took over in August 2014 and the following year, Altidore and future MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco signed on (he assisted on the game-winner). A championship core was in place, and then Bezbatchenko and Vanney rebuilt the back line in ’16 with the additions of Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour. It’s been a steady rise, from missing the playoffs (2014), to making them (’15), to losing a gutwrenching final (’16) and then winning it all on Saturday—and then some. This was a road to redemption paved with silver, the likes of which MLS hasn’t seen. “You could tell that was a motivated franchise, a motivated coach, a motivated team,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Their success throughout the year, I believe was fueled by the loss last year.” Said Vanney, who also lost the MLS Cup final three times as a player, “Congratulations to [Seattle], and thanks. They served as motivation for our group.” Bradley has a preternatural ability to recall details. He remembers the route his driver took from the airport toward the stadium the day he arrived in Toronto after agreeing to join the club, in part because he never again used it on his own. On Friday, he said he called an Uber and didn’t offer any suggestions on how best to get from his house to the stadium. So the driver, naturally, took Highway 427 to the Gardiner Expressway—the same route Bradley took that first day in Toronto and not a single time since. “I’m not necessarily a huge believer in fate and things like that,” Bradley said, “[But] to have it come full circle, to kind of finish things off this year in this way. … It’s surreal. [Winning MLS Cup] is why I came. It’s why we came. It’s been the dream for the last four years. After the way things went last year, you can say for the last year it was an obsession.” And it’s done now, without doubt or any possible detraction. This championship narrative was a perfect union of the technical and intangible. And it may be just the beginning of a longer story.
Toronto FC, Altidore Conquer Their Past, Win MLS Cup to Cap Historic Season
QUICKLY ■ Toronto FC nally solved the Stefan Frei puzzle to exact revenge on the Seattle Sounders and win MLS Cup–and in doing so can lay claim to the best season in MLS history. By BRIAN STRAUS December 09, 2017 TORONTO — If this season’s vintage of Toronto FC was going to stake its claim as the best team in Major League Soccer’s 22-year history, then it was going to have to fight to the very end to earn the designation. Saturday’s MLS Cup final was no coronation. It was a grind, a test, a climb to the summit of Mt. Frei that had been a year in the making. Winners of the 2017 MLS Supporters’ Shield and the Canadian Championship (Canada’s domestic Cup competition), TFC stood on the threshold of a historic treble and the club’s first league title. In the way, for the second straight season, were the Seattle Sounders and Frei, the masterful Swiss American goalkeeper who once wore TFC’s colors. He got the best of the Reds last time around. This year, if Toronto wanted to make history, it had to conquer its past. And the hosts did, at long last. Toronto FC won the MLS Cup title on Saturday, 2-0, before 30,0584 fans at sold-out BMO Field. The stadium on the shore of Lake Ontario shook when Jozy Altidore finally ended TFC’s agony and beat Frei on a 67th-minute breakaway. Frei had made save after save across the two championship games, but TFC finally broke through, taking that one last, elusive step to American/Canadian soccer’s pinnacle. It was a deserved, hard-earned triumph. Here are three thoughts on Saturday’s final:
ALTIDORE WRITES A NEW ENDING
Frei’s impossible, leaping save during overtime of last season’s final is regarded by many as the best in league history. It’s become a part of Seattle sports lore. Now, Altidore’s winning goal will have similar status in Toronto. His participation in Saturday’s final wasn’t even guaranteed. But the ankle injury that forced his removal from the Eastern Conference decider against Columbus proved to be the furthest thing from a bad omen. Altidore scored the series-winner shortly after getting hurt, and he promised during the MLS Cup build-up that nothing would keep him from playing this weekend. Altidore started against Seattle and was effective as part of a dynamic, dizzying TFC build-up that kept the visitors on their heels and created numerous gilt-edged scoring chances. But Frei stood firm. Finally, in the 67th, Altidore presented a different sort of target. Rather than playing as a hold-up man or connector, he was at the tip of the spear, racing onto a through ball from Sebastian Giovinco like a player with the freshest ankles on the field. He took a touch to his left to create distance from Seattle’s Joevin Jones, then lifted the ball over Frei as the goalie rushed forward. There was no way TFC’s nemesis was reaching that one. Altidore’s playoff could’ve been remembered far differently. He was suspended for the first leg of the conference finals after getting involved in a post-game fracas against the New York Red Bulls. And he sat on the sidelines for several minutes against the Crew after turning his ankle, contemplating an early exit. Since then, the story—and TFC’s history—has been different.
TORONTO IS DOMINANT
Credit to Toronto coach Greg Vanney for putting a tactical twist on the final that bedeviled the Sounders (17-10-12), who’d been enjoying a dominant postseason run of their own. Rather than their customary 3-5-2, the Reds took the field in a 4-4-2 that tore Seattle apart. The key: it allowed TFC’s outside backs, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, to get forward in the attacking half as if they were playing in a 3-5-2 because of Michael Bradley’s ability to withdraw and perform as something akin to a third center back. He was a center back, however, with the ability to pass, pick out teammates and organize the cycling of the ball better than any standard defender. Toronto (23-6-10) dominated the midfield with Victor Vazquez—who scored TFC’s stoppage-time insurance goal—and the hard-working Jonathan Osorio and Marco Delgado. They had outlets on the flank, Bradley behind them and Altidore and Giovinco as the first-half connector and danger man up front, respectively. Although Giovinco wasn’t sharp in front of goal, he was active, forcing Seattle to pay attention and limiting their options and organization when the ball turned over. Toronto outshot Seattle 22-7 (the Sounders managed two shots on target—two more than they took last year) and held 57% of the possession. TFC was far superior in every aspect, from the bench to the field, and is a deserving champion.
THE BEST SEASON EVER
TFC finished the job. The Reds set a record for points this season and ranked second all-time in regular season goal differential and goals scored. The team they finished behind in those categories, the 1998 LA Galaxy, fell in the conference finals and played in a far more modest league. Those numbers, along with the roster quality and the aforementioned treble, leave TFC standing alone in the argument for best single-season MLS team. More will be asked of them, of course. Repeat. Make a run in the CONCACAF Champions League, which starts in February. But a standard has been set. It’s been set by a club that failed to make the playoffs during its first eight years in the league and that, rather than crumbling after last year’s heartbreaking defeat, raised its game.
Michael Bradley happy to secure MLS Cup ‘obsession’ with Toronto
Dec 9, 2017
Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley was thrilled to secure his “obsession” of winning the MLS title after the 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in Saturday’s final.After nearly a decade in Europe, Bradley returned to MLS four years ago as one of the league’s highest-paid players and on Saturday obtained his goal of helping Toronto become the first Canadian club to lift the MLS Cup trophy.The triumph comes one year after Toronto came up short on penalties in the final against the same opponents, and Bradley praised his teammates’ resiliency. “This has been the dream for four years, since the day I got here, and for the last year the dream has become an obsession,” he told ESPN after the game.”For this group of guys to work every single day, and remember last year, to get back here, to play that game, in this atmosphere, with that on the line — it’s unbelievable.”Bradley, also the captain of the United States national team, was the target of jeers during the playoffs after the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup, but he didn’t have anything to say to his critics.”I don’t have to say anything,” he said. “I love to play, I love to compete. That’s it for me.”
BRADLEY Completed 92% of his passes in what was his Best Game of the Season — View image on Twitter
Toronto FC became the first MLS team to complete the domestic Treble — making it through the playoffs to win the MLS Cup, earning the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record, and also winning the Canadian Championship cup competition.ictor Vazquez was with Barcelona when they won the Champions League in 2009 and 2011, but he said for the amount of trophies Toronto FC won this season, the Reds are the best team he’s played for.”For sure, I never win that many trophies. That explains everything,” he said. “That’s also why I came here. They put a lot confidence in me and I give it back so we are celebrating and we’re going to enjoy this night.”Vazquez capped the victory with a goal in stoppage time, but he credited Jozy Altidore’s opener for opening up the game in Toronto’s favor.”I can not explain this, that’s amazing,” he said. “Everything we did today is for these people around the pitch. Everything we have done all season, and today, we have done everything. I don’t have words, because that’s too much, I think.”The game was more open [after Altidore’s goal] and then we could create more chances, we could score more goals. They went to try to put some balls in the box but they didn’t do anything.”We won the balls on the pitch, we did everything and we have to be proud and happy, because to do this, that’s amazing.”
Castillo: Bradley finds home, hope, redemption with Toronto FC Cup win
December 10, 201711:11AM ESTArielle CastilloSenior Editor
TORONTO – On Saturday night in Toronto FC’s locker room – the floor covered in an inch-thick slurry of sprayed champagne, beer, confetti, and other detritus — the captain tried to find the closest thing to a quiet moment. About a half hour before, Michael Bradley, fresh off the team’s first-ever MLS Cup win – a 2-0 victory in a rematch over the Seattle Sounders — had gleefully joined his teammates in singing and champagne showers. But now, done with a press conference, he sipped soda rather than booze and leaned into his locker-room cubby, his back to lurking media, maybe tending to his phone, or maybe just taking it all in for a moment.Finally, when he had collected himself, Bradley turned to face the scrum – and immediately shot down the narrative that had been fomenting since Toronto FC first pulled ahead of the Sounders. Forget anything to do with his duty with the US men’s national team – if there was a “redemption” arc of sorts for Bradley regarding TFC’s Cup win, it had only to do with redemption for last year’s MLS Cup loss to the same team at home. “It’s not fair for anybody connected with this team to talk about anything else, because for this team, for the last year, it has been like nothing I’ve ever been a part of,” he said of TFC. “Unless you have lived the last year on the inside of this team,” he continued, “and know what it’s like to have to wake up the next morning after losing a final the way we did last year, to have to go through a preseason when you feel your chance at redemption feels 50 years away…. No disrespect – nobody on the outside can understand that.”Indeed, arguably no one more than Bradley has, as a transplant, quite devoted himself so devotedly to making both the club and his city his home, with the goal of lifting them both up. Earlier this week, at the team’s Kia Training Ground outside of the city, I sat down with Bradley for a chat about his relationship with Toronto. Growing up in New Jersey, looking up to idols like Mark Messier and Kobe Bryant, clearly left an imprint about the way a devoted local sports icon can bring a city together. “It doesn’t happen in one day” he said of a city embracing an athlete, his trademark, thoughtful cadence slow and measured, every word considered and no athlete-speak wasting air. “It happens in a lot of different ways. You have to win, you have to show your loyalty in both good and bad moments, you should show the commitment to embrace the club and the city.”His arrival in Toronto in 2014, he said, offered a perfect opportunity for him to plant roots as both a soccer player, and as a resident. “At this stage in my career. I wanted to I wanted to go somewhere where I had the opportunity to play a huge role in what was going on every single day, and I wanted to go somewhere where the potential to build something different and special and unique was was there,” he said. “And I think, on the flip side,” he continued, “that after some of the disappointing and frustrating years that they had here — I think I don’t want to speak for them but I think in some ways the fans were looking for for somebody to come here and kind of say, ‘This is where I want to be. This is my club I’m not going anywhere.’ And so and that was what I wanted to do.”In fact, once he starts talking about the city of Toronto, it seems, he could go on forever. “We all love it here,” he says of himself and his family. “It has the character of different places we’ve lived, and I think that’s part of the reason why from the beginning it’s felt so much like home. The people are incredible; they’re so warm and welcoming and go out of the way to make you feel part of things.”In fact, he said, the bond between team, fans, and city only grew after the pain of losing the MLS Cup final in 2016. “I’ve never seen anything like the response, and I’ve never seen anything like the way the city and fans embraced us,” he recalled. “My respect and appreciation and my admiration for our supporters grew more as a result of us losing than it could have in any other way. “Fans, in so many moments, are so – as we all are – wrapped up in the result. Did we win? Did we lose? But the ability of our supporters last year, even in the most heartbreaking, painful moment possible, to make sure we all knew how proud they were of us, and how much it had meant to all of them to be a part of something like that – it was incredible.”The feeling around town this week was that fans here loved him right back, with little concern (probably naturally) for any drama in international soccer. “Hero” was a word I heard several times in informal conversations. And when fans lined up, pre-match, near the corner where TFC players enter the tunnel from the locker room, Bradley drew the biggest cheers. “Hey Cap’!” Fans around me yelled. “Hey Cap’! Go on, Cap!’”All of that’s translated his teammates say, to his stewardship in both the locker room and on the field. “I think you could tell he took [last year’s MLS Cup loss] personally, and he felt a personal responsibility to the city, and he delivered that tonight. That says all you need to know about him,” said defender Jason Hernandez. “I played with Michael when he was 17 years old at the MetroStars, and to see the maturation and development of him to being the best captain I’ve ever played for is incredible.”But there’s probably nobody closer to Bradley on the team than forward Jozy Altidore. Besides playing together for both club and country, of course, they’ve also been friends since their teen years at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. And in the locker room, Altidore gave his longtime friend plenty of props for his leadership through sometimes-troubled waters. “It hasn’t always been easy – even with each other,” Altidore said. “But that’s how you know you’re in something real with people; youe able to have real conversations and get on with it. We’re like that, and we’ve been like that since we’ve known each other. To help him, lead this group of guys to do something this special says a lot about the club and what we’re doing going forward.”There’s a sense, among teammates and fans, that they’ve all been through plenty together, from the club’s recent nadirs, to last year’s MLS Cup heartbreak at home. And Bradley’s been proud to try to shoulder that burden for his club team, any other chatter be damned. A reporter in the locker room even pointed out his captain’s armband for the night – it bore Toronto’s city flag. “There were some dark years along the way, but the people who stuck with it, who continued to believe, who continued to identify with the club – nights like this are for them,” he said in the locker room. “We want to play and represent the in a way that makes them proud, that makes them leave here and feel like they were part of something different and special.”
Seattle lets chance to cement dynasty status slip away in MLS Cup defeat
TORONTO — So much of Saturday evening’s MLS Cup rematch between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC inspired déjà vu.The prematch buildup at BMO Field was just as raucous, if not even more so, than it was last December. The a cappella version of O Canada from the home crowd brought familiar goosebumps to the fore. Just as in the 2016 final, TFC controlled the game but struggled to turn that dominance into an actual breakthrough. For an hour, the reigning title-game MVP, Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, was on track for a repeat award following a series of increasingly outlandish saves, and the energy inside the building was infused with a “here we go again” sense of dread.Then Jozy Altidore split the Sounders’ defense up the seam with a well-timed run to finish past a helpless Frei, and everything changed.The feeling within the away locker room of BMO could not have been more disparate than it was at this time last year. No protective covering in front of the lockers was necessary. Clumps of athletic tape and sod littered the floor, rather than discarded celebratory beer cans. Instead of a heaving, champagne-spraying, dancing mass, the players kept mostly to themselves in their respective stalls, shoulders slumped and eyes watery.”You feel like you let down a whole city,” third-year midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “You feel like you let down yourself, your teammates, your family. It’s very tough, emotional. But at the end of the day, you can’t do anything about it now. You have to look forward.”The vibe was very much reminiscent of a different defeated Seattle finalist from a few years back: the 2014 Seahawks. That group was even more shaken, given the traumatic way they lost, with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing an interception on the New England Patriots’ goal line with less than a minute remaining.Yet there was the same sense of a precious, fleeting opportunity missed. These Sounders, like those Seahawks, would have been back-to-back champions. No matter how strongly you feel about your current team or how unbroken its upward trajectory, those chances don’t come around all that often.No one is more painfully aware of just how much hard work and good luck go into reaching a championship game, let alone winning one, than the athletes themselves.Seattle forward Will Bruin qualified for MLS Cup in each of his first two seasons as a pro while with Houston. The Dynamo lost both of those finals to the LA Galaxy, the last MLS team to win consecutive titles, but to a youngster such as Bruin, the team’s eventual triumph felt like only a matter of time.It would be five years and would require a change of scenery for Bruin to earn another shot. He spoke earlier this week about no longer taking these moments for granted, and that realization made Saturday’s defeat that much tougher to swallow.”It sucks,” Bruin said. “It probably hurts more now because this is such a good team we have. … It’s not every year you get to go to MLS Cup. Hopefully we can keep this group together. If we keep the core of this team, we can learn from this experience. It sucks now, but if we bring back the nucleus and the core, it will make us stronger.”The Sounders have plenty of reasons to believe that they have the pieces in place to make another deep push sooner rather than later. Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro has a contract that runs into the 2019 season, and veteran forward Clint Dempsey recently reupped for another year. Roldan, though he struggled in this final, has become one of the best young players in the league. Jordan Morris, if he can stay healthy, will be a part of the foreseeable future as well.The defense that hadn’t allowed a goal since Oct. 1 prior to Saturday night is a solid foundation to build upon. Seattle mostly waltzed through the West, and the rest of the conference contenders have more glaring question marks.Still, don’t expect the club to sit pat. Within hours of last year’s championship, the Sounders declined the contracts of a host of influential veterans, and general manager Garth Lagerwey impressively remade the roster in order to make another run. Expect Lagerwey to keep tinkering in obsessive pursuit of getting back to exactly where his team stood earlier Saturday evening, 90 minutes from another title.That’s the thing about losing a championship game: You never really get the chance to make amends. Even if Seattle wins the next two MLS Cups, the next three, the next five, 2017 will forever be the one that got away, the missing piece of a would-be dynasty.There are no guarantees. The Seahawks, for each of those winning seasons since, haven’t made it back to another Super Bowl. Late Saturday night, in the bowels of a stadium in which they once triumphantly celebrated, the Sounders weren’t quite ready to ponder a similar fate.”Right now, it still feels like a failure,” Bruin said. “In a few days, sure, we’ll sit back and appreciate what we did. But with the Sounders, sometimes we take things for granted because we hold ourselves to such a high standard that we expect to get where we want to go. That’s winning MLS Cup, and we fell short, so right now, it feels like a failure.”
Frei’s fine form had Toronto coach Vanney ‘on edge’ throughout MLS Cup
Dec 9, 2017Matt PentzESPN FC
TORONTO — Even at 1-0 up, having controlled the 2017 MLS Cup final from start to finish and with the clock frozen at 90 minutes, Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney did not exhale until Victor Vazquez pounced on a rebound to double TFC’s lead.Only then, in the 94th minute and with BMO Field breaking into hysterics, did Vanney allow himself to believe that his team was really going to avenge last year’s title-game defeat to the Seattle Sounders, win the club’s first MLS Cup and become the first team in league history to win three major trophies in a single season. “That was the first time I took a deep breath and felt like we had done it,” Vanney said. “Before that, it was obviously a long game, where I felt like chances were coming but we weren’t putting them away. [Sounders goalkeeper] Stefan Frei was having another blinder of a game and making saves. Even with that first goal I was still, like everybody, feeling a little bit on edge.”That second goal was for me the first time that my emotions came out a little bit. I looked up at the sky because as most of you are aware I lost my mother, and she would have really proud. I’ve lost this game four times prior to tonight and she witnessed all of those, so I was really happy to do that with this group of guys who have been amazing all year.”Toronto dominated Saturday evening’s match, out-shooting the Sounders 22-7, including an 11-1 edge in shots on goal. And even though his team could have started wondering if it was going to be another one of those nights when they entered halftime at 0-0 — having similarly taken over last year’s game but not being able to break through — at intermission they were calm and composed.”[I] mostly just wanted them to stay positive, not get frustrated after a year like last year and a half like that,” Vanney said. “Keep your foot on the gas, keep trying to create chances and not be afraid that you’re going to give up something in the endeavor of trying to go win the game. That was one of our big statements this week. Be bold. Nobody wins anything by being afraid. Go out and be bold and the ball kept going.”The breakthrough finally came in the 67th minute. Jozy Altidore sprinted onto a threaded pass by Sebastian Giovinco and finishing in front of a noisy South End. Vanney stayed internally clenched for another half hour or so, before Vazquez struck again and the coach could finally begin to celebrate.”We’re so proud do to this in front of our city and our fans,” Vanney said. “It’s been a long time and a long journey to get here, heartache along the way as we saw last year, but to get here tonight and be able to lift a trophy with them and in front of them is an incredible journey and we’re so proud to be here in this moment.”
The good, the bad and the ugly of the 2017 Major League Soccer season
Dec 10, 2017Graham Parker
Toronto FC capped off a 2017 season in which it set an MLS record for most points in a single season, won the Canadian Championship and secured the Supporters’ Shield by lifting the MLS Cup on home soil Saturday night. With the campaign now in the rearview mirror, Graham Parker picks out the good, the bad and the ugly of the 2017 Major League Soccer season.
Saturday night’s 2-0 win over Seattle in the final was the kind of dominant display we’d been waiting for from Toronto during these playoffs, restoring that feel of inevitability about its rise. Tactically astute, technically superior and showing an overwhelming force of will, Toronto put a final emphatic spin on its claim as the best MLS team ever. Toronto’s 2017 was extraordinary. Even as the likes of the Chicago Fire pulled together a campaign that briefly flattered themselves as Shield contenders, Toronto was assembling a campaign that would gather remorseless momentum over the summer. And if it faded a little toward the end of the year, that was explicable in part by the fact that a record-breaking team was already so far out of reach in the standings that a dip in focus was understandable. Balanced, powerful, skillful and pushed over the top as an attacking force in 2017 by Victor Vazquez, Toronto set a new technical benchmark for the league.For nearly every other new benchmark, there was Atlanta United. Given every context to thrive by an organization that placed them in an excellent stadium, and a fan base that turned out in droves, Atlanta more than stood up on the field. Tata Martino’s lightning-fast team electrified the league in its debut season, and if it fell short in the playoffs thanks to a goalkeeper performance for the ages from Columbus’ Zack Steffen, the future looks bright in Georgia.
Speaking of the Crew, fans around the league rallied in support of their peers for the #SaveTheCrew campaign, and it showed the best aspects of supporter culture in the U.S. and Canada. The future remains uncertain, but on the field at least, they’ll always have the memory of Steffen and, of course, Harrison Afful’s mesmerizing dribble to put the New York City FC series beyond reach.NYCFC will have a tough offseason reflecting on the Alexander Callens red card that upended its playoff hopes, but the team continues to settle into the most challenging of markets and deserves to have its most ambitious community initiative marked. The first 10 of a planned 50 futsal courts for underserved New York communities were unveiled just before the playoffs started — a critical mass that demonstrates an admirable commitment to the team’s home.
Going into the summer, FC Dallas appeared to be in familiar fashion in the West, as it sought to build on 2016’s U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield by adding an elusive MLS Cup in 2017. But by the run-in, Dallas fans were left counting down the weeks hoping that somehow the regular season would run out before their team fell out of the playoff picture. FCD were still technically in contention going into the final day, but a last-minute San Jose goal would push them out of playoff contention for good; and after a season of injuries, strange selections and the awkward integration of Cristian Colman into the team, Dallas could hardly claim it had been robbed. This was a bad year.The LA Galaxy, too, must enter 2018 with a sense of foreboding. The post-Bruce Arena era looked worryingly similar to the pre-Bruce Arena era. Big names were effective only in fits and starts, the StubHub Center’s reputation as a fortress was left in tatters by serial home losses, and ultimately Sigi Schmid was drafted in midway through the season to try to stabilize the season at “underwhelming” rather than “abject.” Romain Alessandrini was perhaps the lone bright spot. But with the spotlight shifting to LAFC, the Galaxy face a battle for local relevance in 2018, something that was unthinkable a couple of years ago.Other teams were left with similar challenges in looking for any consolation to take from 2017. For D.C. United, another season of uninspiring drift on the field ended with a loss to a second-string New York Red Bulls team in the final ever game at RFK Stadium. In fairness to Ben Olsen, the financial focus on the new stadium has left him with a really difficult task in trying to build competitive teams, and he deserves his chance to showcase the side in its new home, but D.C.’s ongoing irrelevance as a sustained competitive force has been tough to witness.
If the #SaveTheCrew campaign was heartening, the very need for it in the first place was not. Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt had long hinted that the organization needed a downtown stadium to be competitive and viable, but on the eve of the playoffs it emerged that that belief was now an ultimatum to the city, with a move to Austin, Texas, looking more like a fait accompli than just an option on the table. Precourt, et al, never got in front of the story, and it was hard to feel sympathy as the unfolding PR disaster engulfed them.And finally, there was the infamous tunnel spat at BMO Field that saw Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan sent off, and introduced the wider MLS viewership to Toronto’s red tunnel — which gave us the unfortunate impression of a fight taking place in a submarine. Kljestan had previously spoken of his team “going down swinging,” but this was not exactly what he had in mind. It could have ended up as the defining image of Toronto’s postseason; there was little exuberance about the way they battled through the 2017 playoffs compared to the momentum of 2016, but there was plenty of grit. In the end though, if Toronto was made to win ugly at times, it would not be denied.
Stejskal: Toronto FC journey from “worst team in the world” to best in MLS
December 10, 201712:24AM ESTSam StejskalContributor
TORONTO – A couple of hours after the final whistle blew on the finest night in Toronto FC’s 11-year history, after the mind-scrambling tension of another tight final against the Seattle Soundersspilled into a champagne-soaked celebration of the club’s first MLS Cup title, after his team became the first in league history to win three major trophies in one year, Tim Bezbatchenko stood in the TFC locker room and tried to explain what it all meant.The Toronto GM pointed to a sign hanging in the entryway, placed so every player and every coach see it every time they come and go. At the bottom of the sign, underneath a list of some of the club’s smaller, shorter-term objectives, are two words: The Treble.The Canadian Championship. The Supporters’ Shield. MLS Cup.After tonight, TFC have all three. After tonight, TFC have history.“It means we’re the best ever, that’s what it means,” said Bezbatchenko. “From Greg [Vanney] to Michael [Bradley] and all the way down, throughout the entire year they had their eyes set on this. We didn’t talk about it vocally until we started to pick up momentum, pick up the Canadian Championship, but look at this board right here, we made this at the beginning of the year. This was always the goal. The Treble. We made this, this has been here since Day One, and we did it. The Canadian Championship, the Supporters’ Shield – tonight was the last part of it.”For Bezbatchenko, Bradley and Vanney, MLS Cup was the culmination of a four-year journey to turn TFC from “the worst team in the world to the best team in the history of MLS.”The laughingstock of the entire league for their first seven seasons, Toronto began their current trajectory in 2014, when they shocked the North American soccer scene by convincing Bradley to ditch Italian giants Roma to sign for their last-place MLS club. Designated Players Jermain Defoeand Gilberto joined the US international in his first season in Toronto, but TFC’s Bloody Big Deal quickly became a Bloody Big Dud. Bradley, Defoe and Gilberto didn’t fit together, head coach Ryan Nelsen was fired midway through the year and the club limped to a weak finish under Vanney to miss the playoffs.Defoe and Gilberto left following the 2014 season, replaced by rock stars Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. Together with Bradley, they took Toronto to new heights. Giovinco ran away with the MLS MVP, leading TFC to their first-ever playoff berth. There was a raucous celebration at BMO Field on the day they clinched, but the club’s moment of catharsis didn’t last. Toronto were bounced in the Knockout Round, dominated 3-0 by Didier Drogba and archrivals Montreal to immediately exit the playoffs. They improved again in 2016, but with more success came more disappointment. Much more. Toronto finished the regular season third in the East, then beat Philadelphia, NYCFC and Montreal to advance to MLS Cup against Seattle. Everything looked lined up for the Reds to take the title. The Sounders were banged up heading into the final, and Toronto dominated, not allowing a single shot on goal. But they were turned away time and time again by goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who bested them in the shootout to steal the championship from TFC.The defeat gnawed at Toronto all winter and changed the tenor of the locker room. Winning MLS Cup was no longer just a mission for Bradley, Giovinco, Altidore and the rest of the roster; it became an obsession. All the disappointment of the previous three years, the expectations that they failed to reach, the trophies they didn’t claim, they became fuel. 2017, they felt, would be their year.From the start, they dominated. Toronto were the best team in the league wire-to-wire, edging out Montreal for the Canadian Championship in June, running away with the Supporters’ Shield and setting the all-time regular-season record for most points in a single campaign. They were loaded at just about every position, had numerous dangerous options off the bench and, with Victor Vazquez joining the team in the winter and Justin Morrow emerging as a Best XI selection, had a better collection of stars than just about any team in MLS history.They had to battle their way through a pair of ugly series against the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC to advance to MLS Cup, but they got back to the title game. Waiting for them was their 2016 boogeyman. Seattle cruised through the West, beating Vancouver and Houston by a combined margin of 7-0. This week, they became something of a trendy pick. We said they were looser than tense Toronto, that they were more confident than slightly out-of-form TFC.On Saturday, Toronto flipped that narrative on its head. They controlled the entire match, rolling out a surprise 4-4-2 diamond formation and absolutely waxing the Sounders. They outshot Seattle 22-7, out-possessed the Sounders 57-43, won 58 of 82 total duels and didn’t let Clint Dempsey, Nico Lodeiro and Co. get a single good look at goal. Bradley was masterful in the midfield, Vazquez put on a show in the attacking third and Altidore, hobbled ankle and all, made BMO Field erupt when he scored the game-winner in the 67th minute.
When Vazquez made it 2-0 in second-half stoppage-time, it was no longer a contest. It was a coronation. The sky above the south stands turned red as TFC’s supporters fired up flares. The smell of cordite wafted. The stadium shook. Bradley raised MLS Cup on the podium. Giovinco had his turn next, lifting a trophy that almost looked bigger than him. Toronto native and academy product Jonathan Osorio, who had an excellent game in the midfield, appeared emotional as he leaned into Altidore on the podium.After everyone had had their turn with the trophy, Morrow carried it over to the supporters’ section. There, in the beating heart of BMO, the team congregated for their celebratory Viking clap, a postgame playoff tradition begun last fall. Altidore boomed on the bass drum, the wall of humanity in front of him responding with their slow clap. Bradley, who’s known Altidore since the two were teenage teammates at US Soccer’s residency program in Bradenton, Florida, kneeled next to the drum, arms wrapped around his two young children.Bezbatchenko was in the throng, too, not far from assistant GM Corey Wray. A Toronto native, Wray has been with TFC since the beginning. The first intern in club history, he spent his first shift checking in players at the team’s inaugural open tryout in December 2006. He survived their infamous 0-9-0 start in 2012, and endured all of the coaching changes, front-office shakeups and miserable seasons that polluted the early years of the club. TFC is family to him, literally. He met his wife Jaime McMillan through the team, where she still works as director of administration and operations.For Wray, tonight was about more than a title or a treble. The championship was about validation, making all those years of professional pain, all the long seasons, all the turmoil worth it. “When we scored the first goal, it was a huge, huge relief. It was unlike anything I ever felt in my life,” he said, fighting back tears. “Then the final whistle, it was kind of surreal until I saw my mom and dad, to be honest. I hate to be corny, but they’ve helped me throughout all these years and helped me in tough times when it was the worst team in the world. They’ve been there to pick me back up and push me and I have to give thanks to them and people like my wife, who works here and is a huge, huge supporter of me. It has been tough and there have been times that you want to give up, but this makes it all worthwhile. I hate to be cliché, but I really do feel that way.”It was a similar feeling for Bradley. Through all of his ups and downs with the national team, Bradley has always been a rock for TFC. He’s more responsible than any other individual for transforming the club from a perennial bottom feeder to a model for all of MLS. His bold decision to trade Rome for Toronto paved the way for Altidore and Giovinco’s arrival, and he and Vanney have molded the locker room in his image.Tonight, his move paid off in the biggest possible way. Tonight, he and Toronto made history.“It was surreal. It’s why I came. It’s why we came. It’s been the dream for the last four years. And after things went last year you can say that in the last year it’s been an obsession,” he said. “Things for me kind of came full circle yesterday. I was driving. I remember the first night I got to Toronto. I landed at the airport and the route the driver took from the airport to downtown, came down 427 and then came in on the Gardiner. And countless times I’ve been at this stadium these last four years I’ve never once taken that same route. And I got into an Uber yesterday morning and I let him take me any way he wanted and he took me down 427 and in on the Gardiner to the stadium.“I’m not necessarily a huge believer in fate and things like that. I think Greg said it a week ago and I like the way he said it – I believe in hard work and preparation and you make your own luck and you give everything you have to put things in your own hands. But there was a moment yesterday morning when I was in the car and it dawned on me that I’ve been here four years and I haven’t take that drive to the stadium once. To have it come full circle and to finish things off this year in this way, when Jozy scored I knew that was it.”
Champions League: What to Expect from a Mouthwatering Knockout Stage
A renewal of an intriguing rivalry and a couple of starstudded affairs are some of the storylines that make for an exciting Round of 16 in the Champions League. By JONATHAN WILSON SI December 11, 2017
Real Madrid, the 12-time European champion, will play Paris St-Germain, who broke the world transfer record in the summer, in the pick of the Champions League last-16 ties that were drawn on Monday in Nyon, Switzerland. There will also be a renewal of rivalries for Barcelona and Chelsea when the knockout stage begins in February. Here’s a breakdown of all eight ties.
JUVENTUS v TOTTENHAM
Last season was dismal for Tottenham in Europe, but it has learned quickly. Whereas previously it seemed they could only win games by dominating the ball, this season they have developed and recorded three wins and a draw from four games against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund having less than 50% possession in each game. The squad, though, is slim, so much will depend on who is available come February. It never looks as solid at the back without Toby Alderweireld who is expected back early in the New Year following his hamstring injury. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino had said that after playing Madrid and Dortmund, the draw could not be tougher. Perhaps not, but it is probably equally tough. The first half of this season has felt like something of a struggle for Juve as it adapts to life after Leonardo Bonucci, but such matters are relative. Although last season’s losing finalists were held to a goalless draw at home by Inter on Saturday, its win away to Napoli suggested a side returning to form. At home, particularly, it remains formidable, having lost only two games in Turin since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
REAL MADRID v PARIS ST-GERMAIN
The stand out as tie of the round: the old money against the nouveaux riches. PSG sets a new record for goals scored during the group stage, banging in 25 in six games, and it’s streets clear in Ligue Un. It responded to last season’s collapse against Barcelona in the last 16 by agreeing record-breaking deals to being in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and the result has been a side capable of spectacular attacking football. The question, though, is over their defense which is so rarely tested that it’s very hard to assess. The way it leaked goals in losing its final group game 3-1 to Bayern – when a four-goal defeat would have seen it lose top spot – only added to the concerns. The defending champion, the first side to win the tournament in successive seasons since the change to the Champions League format, has begun the season slowly. Madrid was well-beaten by Tottenham at Wembley and has dozed through a number of games this season. But then it was the same last season and still won both league and Champions League. Whatever questions remain about Zinedine Zidane’s tactical acumen, it has such attacking quality – plus Luka Modric to knit everything together – that it can never be written off. The sides have only been drawn together once before, in the group stage in 2015-16 when they drew 0-0 in Paris before Nacho scored the only goal at the Bernabeu.
CHELSEA v BARCELONA
When Barcelona was beaten 5-1 on aggregate by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup this looked like being a season of toil. It lost Neymar over the summer while the player it brought in to replace him, Ousmane Dembele, was soon ruled out with a serious hamstring problem. He should be back by the time the knockouts begin. Yet the crisis never materialized as Lionel Messi, seemingly fired by anger at the mess of a summer, inspired the Spanish giants to the top of la Liga. With Antonio Conte having effectively written off the Premier League following Saturday’s defeat away to West Ham, the Champions League probably becomes the focus as it’s a trophy Conte has never won but for all the doubts about how Juve performed in the competition under him, Chelsea produced its best performance of the season, perhaps even its best performance under the Italian. There is a reliance on Eden Hazard and, to a lesser extent, Alvaro Morata but, with everybody fit, Chelsea will be a threat. The sides have developed a strange long-distance rivalry over seven ties (and 15 games), most notably in Champions League semi-finals. In 2009, Andres Iniesta scored an injury-time equalizer in a controversial second leg at Stamford Bridge to take Barca through; three years later, Chelsea ground out a 1-0 at home before drawing 2-2 at the Camp Nou on its way to the trophy.
BASEL v MANCHESTER CITY SOCCER PLANET FUTBOL
Manchester City began the season in extraordinary form, breaking goalscoring records over the first dozen league games of the season, partly because of the signings the club had made in the summer and partly because players who struggled at times with Pep Guardiola’s methods last season have adapted to his philosophy. Victory away to Manchester United on Sunday took it 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League; it can afford to rest players to prioritize the Champions League. Raheem Sterling has been in the form of his life, while Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva offer great variety and creativity. Defensive concerns, however, remain. The Swiss champion Basel is at this stage for the first time in three years. It has a habit of unsettling English sides, eliminating Manchester United from the Champions League in 2011-12 and beating Tottenham on penalties in the Europa League quarter-final a year later. Its coach Raphael Wicky has benefited from relative stability, with few outgoings and the only major arrival that of the Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel. He hasn’t played since the end of September, though, and the sense is that Basel has become a better-balanced side as a result, with the rightwinger Michael Lang emerging as a key presence.
PORTO v LIVERPOOL
No Premier League side has ever scored more in the group stage than the 23 Liverpool managed. Its front four of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah gives the impression of being able to blow any side away with its pace and invention but Liverpool’s problem is that if sides can get through the press and can attack it is extremely vulnerable – as Everton demonstrated in pinching a draw on Sunday. When it concedes goals it tends to concede in batches: four times this season Liverpool has conceded three or more in a game. Porto leads the Portuguese league on goal difference from Sporting and in the end made it through the group relatively comfortably. Only Sevilla of the sides who made it to this stage conceded ADVERTISING 12/11/2017 Champions League: What to Expect From an Appetizing Round of 16 | SI.com https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/12/11/champions-league-real-madrid-psg-chelsea-barcelona-rivalry-tactics-draw 3/6 more goals, but Vincent Aboubakar, who scored the winner for Cameroon in the Cup of Nations final in February, has begun the season in such form that he can turn a game with a half-chance. The sides have been drawn together twice before, in the Uefa Cup in 2000-01 and in the Champions League in 2007-08. On both occasions , Liverpool won at Anfield and drew in Portugal.
SEVILLA v MANCHESTER UNITED
Manchester United qualified comfortably enough for the last 16, the one game in which it dropped points, the away game in Basel, the result of sloppiness rather than anything else. As ever, Jose Mourinho has improved his side significantly in its second season. United has proved capable of playing with both a back three and a back four this season, it has the tallest side left in the competition meaning it can physically dominate sides and when Paul Pogba is on form, his link up with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard offers a fluency that has been missing from United for some time. Sevilla is another example of what feels like a very modern trait in football. Going forward it can be devastating, but get beyond that and it’s extremely vulnerable defensively – no side who made the last 16 conceded more than the 12 it did. The club let in four against Valencia and five against both Spartak Moscow and Real Madrid. It also gave up a three-goal start to Liverpool at home before coming back to draw 3-3. Mourinho had said he is “never lucky in draws” but this could have been a lot worse.
SHAKHTAR v ROMA
When Roma was outplayed at home by Atletico Madrid in its opening group game, clinging on for a 0-0 draw, the suspicion was that it would take new coach Eusebio Di Francesco time to adapt to the Champions League. As it turned out, that process of adaptation didn’t take long at all. Although it lost in Madrid, Roma didn’t concede at all at home and took four points off Chelsea, coming from 2-0 down to draw 3-3 at Stamford Bridge and hammering the Premier League side 3-0 at home. Considering what Shakhtar has been through, having to relocate to Kharkiv because of the war in Donetsk, to reach this stage is a remarkable achievement. This side remains based around Brazilian imports, but that process has stalled with no new signings from Brazil in four years. The fear was that the departure of Mircea Lucescu last year would undermine it, but its enjoyed a new lease of life under Paulo Fonseca, who dressed up as Zorro to celebrate the team’s progress from the group stage.
BESIKTAS v BAYERN MUNICH After a difficult start to the season that saw Carlo Ancelotti sacked, Bayern has improved dramatically since Jupp Heynckes took over. The German team is well-clear at the top of the Bundesliga and, while nobody would suggest its playing in the way they did when they won the trophy in 2013, Heynckes has always reached at least the 12/11/2017 Champions League: What to Expect From an Appetizing Round of 16 | SI.com https://www.si.com/soccer/2017/12/11/champions-league-real-madrid-psg-chelsea-barcelona-rivalry-tactics-draw 5/6 final in three seasons with Bayern, and there is a sense that its slowly improving. Bayern misses its inspirational goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who is expected to be out till April with a broken bone in his foot but both Arjen Robben and Thiago Alcantara should be back in time for the first leg, The Turkish champion was arguably the revelations of the group stage, passing unbeaten through six games and winning all three away matches. Senol Gunes’s side are ideally set up to play on the break, with a well-balanced front three. Ricardo Quaresma stays wide on the right, Cenk Tosun is a mobile centre-forward who offers an aerial threat.
Derby dominance over Man United shows Pep Guardiola effect in full flow
“Park the bus, park the bus, Man United,” the away end sang during Manchester City’s 2-1 victory at Old Trafford on Sunday. At the time, the score was 0-0 and it was the visitors who had been in control, without really testing David De Gea in the Manchester United goal.But still, this was a show of supreme confidence from the supporters. City had seen the majority of the ball, but it was still anyone’s game. To the fans, though, the victory was only a matter of time because of the early patterns of play — and they’d turn out to be right.Why shouldn’t supporters be confident? At kick off, their team had an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League. By full time, they’d have opened up a gap of 11 points. If that’s not a time when they can feel confident their side will roll over anyone in front of them, when is?A record-breaking 14th consecutive top flight win was soon to follow. The irony was that City exploited two set pieces to get their goals. It was them who many thought susceptible to high balls rather than United, leaving Jose Mourinho ruing the “disgraceful” goals. Not that City fans cared how they went in.The show of confidence, bordering on arrogance, from the Old Trafford away section on Sunday was built on what Pep Guardiola has achieved at City since August 2016. At times last season it may have looked like the team were at breaking point, as defensive errors and missed chances led to humiliating defeats. It certainly tested the manager’s resolve but the more he was questioned, the more he dug his heels in to defend his beliefs.City are now reaping the rewards. They weren’t even close to their best in Sunday’s Manchester derby, yet they were still comfortably miles ahead of their rivals. The team looks able to deal with whatever is thrown at them, and that’s why supporters weren’t too nervy about tempting fate with their chants while the game was still in the balance.The evidence of the season so far is that City find a way to win however teams try to stop them. It’s not just the results that have given the fans belief, but the manner of them — regular last-minute winners, a complete commitment to the pass-and-move style that has run opponents ragged, and decision-making that sees most counter-attacks end with two players who could tap the ball home.
The Manchester derby showcased just how far City have developed under Guardiola. The manager didn’t change his approach to the game in the slightest, while his opposite number tied himself in knots trying to work out how to prevent the league leaders running riot. City’s identity was as clear as ever; United’s was a complete mystery beyond trying to turn the game into a gritty affair.It makes Mourinho’s postmatch comments about how City had been lucky all season about as laughable as Ander Herrera’s desperate attempts to cheat his way to an equaliser with a belly-flop in the penalty area in the second half. For all of the prematch hype around his comments about Guardiola’s men practising the dark arts, the travelling fans will be keen to note it was United who were forced to resort to that in a bid to get a point.Of course, an 11-point lead at the top of the table allows supporters to trust in the team. Big defeats and inept displays at Leicester and Everton last season may have tempted the fans to briefly consider that maybe the Premier League was a step too far for their new boss.But they can now see the Guardiola method in action. It’s producing football to a standard they’ve never witnessed before and it’s breaking records on a weekly basis.Even when Roberto Mancini’s team were blitzing their opponents at the beginning of 2011-12 or when Manuel Pellegrini’s side were scoring for fun in the winter months of 2013-14, the football was never as mouth-watering as it is now.City’s scoring has slowed down in recent weeks, but that’s not stopped them extending their dominance of the Premier League over that time. They haven’t changed how they attempt to score whether it’s the opening minute or closing seconds and the number of times it has worked is giving the fans real encouragement that this season could be like none other they’ve ever seen.It already has been extraordinary, but the prospect of it getting better still is supremely exciting.Fans could have watched their team lose at Old Trafford on Sunday and they’d have still poked fun at United’s style — or lack of it. But the win and the lead at the top of the Premier League means life couldn’t be better for City fans right now.Who can blame them for enjoying it?
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