Toronto FC 5: 2 Montreal Impact. The South Stand Report 2: The reportening!
I’m a bit too stunned from it all still to put this together into any kind of well crafted narrative, so instead here’s a more or less chronological word vomit on my thoughts and feeling around an absolutely fucking ridiculous game. Mark’s report started with “I’m not about to write anything you haven’t already heard or don’t already know.” That’s pretty much all this is, but hopefully you’re still eager to read that sort of thing. Enjoy.
After a nervy day, the first impression was that Liberty Village is really not set up for having a 36,000 crowd show up, all more or less at the same time after work, while other people are trying to leave after work, and tfc fans are trying to gather for marches. Streets were gridlocked, parking lots full, there was a huge swell of people at the bottom of Atlantic street to get into the Go Train tunnel, it was very chaotic and very easy to become grumpy. After getting into the tunnel though it went quicker, and getting inside the stadium actually went relatively smoothly and so we settled in.
As for the pitch, full marks to the grounds crew as I couldn’t see any lines and it seemed to hold up nicely for the players even through the steady rain, so that caps off a pretty good year for them. I don’t think it guarantees no problems in the future, but this year, the pitch held up just fine to the Argos, which is reassuring.
The next thing to note is the crowd. Obviously bigger than any before at BMO Field, and it wasn’t the usual late arriving, half interested crowd. So many platitudes get thrown around and they’re very overblown, they have been for years when it comes to TFC crowds. Today though it was a proper atmosphere. The cliche of ‘taking the crowd out of the game’, it could have been said here, we were loud, interested, really paying attention and just desperate to explode.
And nervous, definitely that as well, and the game itself didn’t really help with that, as TFC really didn’t play well to start off. Much like in the first leg, there was a lot of long balls. I’m presuming that was all about making sure to avoid turnovers which Montreal thrive on, but there was very little possession play and trying to get the ball forward under control as a team, and thus very few chances created or things to cheer. Sebastian Giovinco certainly didn’t seem to appreciate it, again much like the first leg, he started breaking out his frustrated arm waving self very early on. Either he was carrying an injury, or it’s just about Montreal’s defence, but he did not have a great series here at all, which is definitely part of why TFC looked a lot less fluent and threatening than they often have this year.
Another player not doing as well as he had recently, Michael Bradley, for whatever reason this matchup really didn’t leave him looking his best. His passing was off, and he really didn’t look good on Montreal’s first goal. No-one did really, as after the Impact got by him, they were running at the defence who didn’t know whether to step up or hang back and thus Oduro got another chance. That’s not entirely surprising, but he buried it again, what the hell is that all about.
Down 4-2, against a team that loves to sit and counter, not good news, but after a very short moment of stunned quiet, the crowd got back into it, more about desperate pleading than any kind of actual belief given the situation and how TFC were playing, but then the strangeness really started to kick in.
I’ll admit I missed the first goal, poor planning meant I needed to use the bathroom, and given all the extra people in the south stand, I knew half time lineups would be ridiculous, so when someone went down injured, I figured I’d be fine to nip quickly out and back in without missing much. Nope, stupid lineups even in the middle of the game, adding that many seats really puts a strain on the facilities.
Anyway, while I was gone, Cooper scored, then after my return Altidore scored. Both from corners! TFC scoring from set pieces just never happens, now twice in one game, that’s just ridiculous. Could TFC get this lucky, to play crap, but win because of set pieces? Best bit of Altidore’s goal, watch the highlights and you see Drew Moor following in and grabbing the ball as players often do when they want to get play started again. Except no, no need for that this time and so instead he punts it as far as he can towards the east stand, fun.
Almost as ridiculous, the south end canopy, the useless pointless, stupidly high south end canopy, it worked! It only protects a sliver of the stand from rain or sun at any one time, and for this night the wind was perfect so that the back of the stand where we stand was the part that was covered. Everything was coming together.
And so half time, time to breathe, though with the dawning realisation that now we had something to lose, now the nerves really kicked in.
Something to lose you say, well it didn’t take long as another very scrambly bit of defending led to Montreal taking the lead, offside apparently though not something I noticed at the time. And thus the away goal advantage was gone, a goal now would merely take it to extra time, another Impact goal would be disastrous, I wasn’t optimistic here, mainly because still, TFC were not playing well and looking like creating anything.
Talking of disastrous goals, and Nick Hagglund really looked the favourite for that to happen. His header cleared off the line before the first goal aside, he’d had a terrible game, so many giveaways, he looked like he’d forgotten how to trap, or pass a ball, friend of the blog Red Wine Roz tweeted this:
Nick Hagglund will be our downfall. #TFC
— Roz (@RedWineRoz) December 1, 2016
Then from a corner again (3 goals from a corner in one game is an MLS record. TFC, setting an MLS record on corner goals, think about just how ridiculous that is. TFC! From corners! And that it happened in this game!). Hagglund with a great leap and a very accurate header and just like that we were tied up. In this week’s podcast I was talking about how TFC had better options this year, comparing it to last year, or even this year against San Jose when we were reduced to letting Tsubasa Endoh throw in cross after cross. Left unsaid at the time was the fact that it was Hagglund that we’d thrown up front to try and get on the end of all those crosses. Now here he was, getting on the end of a cross and scoring a huge goal. So many things that don’t really make all that much sense and now TFC were level and we were staring extra time in the face. And penalties. Even on such a weird night you can’t really have had confidence that that would work well for TFC.
We nearly didn’t get there as much like in the first game, TFC eventually finally woke up and started playing better. Was it the introduction of Tosaint Ricketts? The introduction of Didier Drogba or maybe just general tiring of Montreal’s old legs, TFC’s better fitness showing? Dunno really, but TFC had plenty of chances to finish this off. Genuine chances that would get anyone still sitting off their feet in genuine anticipation that it SHOULD end in a goal, but they didn’t. First off Ricketts breaking in, clearly having no confidence in a left foot shot and thus passing up a chance, then Giovinco breaking in, passing it to Ricketts, but slightly behind him and thus with his left foot the only option for a quick shot. He didn’t take that option, instead trying to bring it onto his right and thus wasting the chance. Then Jozy Altidore bulldozed and finessed his way through a bunch of players and got off a shot that came thiiiiiiiiiis close to sneaking under Evan Bush, it was a really really last ditch save, and thus we went to extra time, with much frantic looking around and checking with others in the crowd to clarify if away goals kept going in extra time. they didn’t Phew.
Then the darkest moment of the night, Giovinco went down, very strangely with no Impact contact on him. And he stayed down, and got up clearly hobbled and Nick Hagglund tried to pass it to him anyway and it just bounced off him. This wasn’t good. But then we got another of my favourite moments, one of the few that got me a wee bit emotional. The fans started signing for him, and it got louder, and he moved from a slow walk back to midfield to a jog, he was gonna be alright. Except he wasn’t, he had to be subbed off but still, it was emotional. I find TFC crowds lack the general spontaneity in their chanting that you’ll find at English grounds, it’s much more organised and timed and thus not as good really (makes sense really, lot of history and time for that sort of thing to build up over there, TFC will eventually get there) but this wasn’t about capos, wasn’t about a certain time on the clock, or about that chant being next in the list, it was stadium wide recognition that he needed it at that time, and thus the encouragement (again, as much desperate pleading as anything) was given.
On came Benoit Cheyrou, and there wasn’t even really time to think about how to win without Giovinco when Benny Balls scored. Beitashour threw in a perfect cross, behind and curving away from the defenders, but not close enough for the goalie to come out for and Cheyrou was there for some reason, and for some reason scoring with a diving header! I love diving headers, this wasn’t Keith Houchen 1987 FA cup final (hi Spurs fans!) levels of aesthetic perfection, he was kind of stooped rather than flinging himself horizontally, the ball bounced in rather than flying bullet like, but god damn that’s a thing of beauty right there from one of my favourite players. There’s a very good chance that will be his last meaningful contribution to TFC, and what a fucking way to go that is.
Bedlam and much hugging in the stands, and it hadn’t died down when it happened again. Altidore, who’d once again got better, more physical and effective as the game went on, with a fantastic move to create some space and another perfect cross, low this time and Ricketts stretched and knocked it just past Bush. #Altitts #Hey. It’s remarkable the impact Ricketts is having coming off the bench. There’s clearly more to it than just him, it does suggest good things about TFC’s fitness levels, and new Tobias killing mental fortitude, but TFC have scored 8 and conceded 0 in his time on the pitch in the playoffs, that’s in 119 minutes plus injury times. Craziness.
More hugging and bedlam in the stands, this time with actual belief that they were going to do this, it was mixed in with relief and a great release of anxiety.
This is when the game ops crew really stepped up their game, first there was a firwework let off for no reason, while the game was going on, then all of a sudden, at the extra time half time, a brief snippet of summer of 69 got played. Fantastic. I love a good harmless fuckup, and unlike Montreal’s line fiasco (kudos to the tape measure tifo by the way), that’s what these were.
We moved into the second half and the game was done. We all knew it, and Mark had the ideal way to commemorate the surrealness of the game, and of the fact that TFC are now hosting a final, and to neatly tie things up with a throwback to some of TFC’s darkest times. Bohemian Rhapsody. Genius, except unlike back in 2012, the crowd was energetic, loud and still very much into the game and so it never got heard and never got going, killed off by the fun ‘this is our house/fuck you drogba’ chant before he almost scored from a free kick.
That just left time for two more fun crowd moments, first the old hands over in the south east were doing the bounce, which involves some clapping while singing. The new hands in the South West heard clapping and presumed Viking clap and just went with that instead. Endearing enthusiasm if not good co-ordination. Then there was another very nice moment of the crowd showing intelligent spontaneity, not really a soccer thing, but a good Montreal rivalry chant as na na na na hey hey goodbye rang out towards those up in the north east nosebleeds.
Then it was over, more hugs were had, tears were spilled, fives were not left hanging. Out came the stage out came the trophy, and I’m happy they didn’t try to be all cool and ignore it, they earned that. Then there was more drumming and clapping, I even applauded Greg Vanney when he wandered in the general direction of the south west, and then that boys on the field song that thoroughly brought red wine roz to tears, and then eventually it all stopped and the players left the pitch, and I guess we had to leave, eventually, reluctantly.
And we get to do it all again next Saturday. In the fucking final. At the start of the season, a general podcast consensus was that the bar for a good season should be raised to ‘home playoff game’ maybe with ‘don’t embarrass us again’ thrown in as an extra. They gave us 4 of them! and then this. 5-2! 7-5 over 2 legs is all sorts of crazy dumb.
This wasn’t the prettiest game, by either side but especially from TFC, they needed a record setting game from set pieces just to get to extra time, but they just wouldn’t die. All season, whether an 8 game road trip, a mid season injury crisis, they’ve weathered adversity, hung in and come out of it. And they did it again when it really mattered. Against Montreal as well. Fun.
I’m still stunned at the whole thing really. Many outlets have taken the ‘this game washes away all the hurt, all the jokes from the previous 10 years’ approach to their reports. I’m not there yet, the bastards still owe me, but I’m getting there. The grand season ticket holder musical chairs game we’ll forced to do to make room for MLS hangers on and sponsors keeps those bitter embers going a little longer. One more time and maybe I’ll be ready to move on.