Over the years, Toronto FC has been a franchise looking to make a statement in the city, but has failed many times by finishing at the bottom of the league.
But the last three years have seen a change, with a remodeled stadium, the addition of star players, a new backroom staff, on field success, and even silverware, Toronto FC are now back-to-back Eastern Conference champions and MLS Cup champions.
This has all led the franchise to be one of Toronto’s most successful teams, says John Molinaro, Sportsnet’s chief soccer reporter.
Toronto FC kicked off its first season in 2007 and went down as one of the worst ever teams in the MLS, winning six of its 30 league games in the expansion season.
Attendance averaged just over 20,100 people per game in the opening season and dropped over the next few years. Average attendance dropped overall by 2,000 fans a season from 2007-2012.
In 2015, Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (MLSE) added 8,400 seats, along with the star players such as Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. After success in the last couple of seasons, the average attendance in 2017 was just over 27,600.
Success on and off the field has raised the average attendance by 9,000 people from 2013-2017. Molinaro says with the work TFC has done on and off the field, it’s the best team in the MLS.
“The last three to four years this has become a model franchise,” he says. “I think there’s been a major culture change where they expect to win and everything is far more professional than it was.”
This franchise is also having a big impact on the city, says Molinaro. He says young Canadians are finding a new motivation to want to play for their hometown team after the franchise won its first ever Supporters’ Shield this season.
TFC fan Chris Lozanovski, who has been there since the start, says everything changed after the appointment of head coach Greg Vanney, who just won Coach of the Year, and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko.
“The culture and atmosphere of the stadium changed, the way the club treats the youth players is a lot more exceptional and I think that gives younger players a motivation to want to get their foot stuck in with TFC,” said Lozanovski.
Canadians Jontahan Osorio, Jay Chapman, and Tosaint Ricketts were an integral part of TFC’s success, Molinaro said, and they are players Canadians can look up to and try to emulate.
“I think it’s important for young Canadians to have something to aspire to, to have Canadian soccer players to emulate and to look up to,” he said.
The introduction to the Canadian Premier League (CPL) in 2018 will also be an asset for TFC, said Molinaro. The CPL will provide a stage for young Canadians who share a dream of playing for Toronto FC to showcase themselves at a higher level, he added.
“The best thing new fans can do is watch other MLS games and they will realize how special this team is and how amazing the atmosphere is,” said Lozanovski. “Hockey is the dominant sport in this city and basketball is growing rapidly, so I think TFC’s immediate success has got them on the map in this city.”
A big question is whether TFC will be able to maintain this success over a period of years. Since Vanney and Bezbatchenko signed new contracts in the summer, Molinaro expects the core of the team will stay put for the coming years.
“Key contributors like Altidore, Giovinco, Bradley and Vazquez are locked up for a couple more years,’ said Molinaro. “The club has a core of young players like Delgado, Osorio and Bono also locked up for multiple years, so I think this is a franchise who can challenge for MLS Cup every season for the coming years.”
Toronto FC is the first team in MLS history to win the domestic treble after winning MLS Cup for the first time last week with its win over the Seattle Sounders.
The franchise will be looking to defend its title next season and continue to make more history.