Soccer

MLS passion has arrived in Toronto with full force

Toronto FC's Michael Bradley lifts the Eastern Conference trophy after his team defeated the Montreal Impact in the MLS Eastern Conference championship soccer series, in Toronto on Nov. 30, 2016.
Toronto FC's Michael Bradley lifts the Eastern Conference trophy after his team defeated the Montreal Impact in the MLS Eastern Conference championship soccer series, in Toronto on Nov. 30, 2016. AP

Michael Bradley knew, the moment he dropped his son off at school on Wednesday morning, that after 10 years Toronto had fallen deeply in love with its Major League Soccer team.

By late that night, the city was going berserk after Toronto earned its first MLS Cup berth with a dramatic 5-2 extra-time victory over rival Montreal in the Eastern Conference Final. BMO Field was rocking with a capacity crowd of 36,000, and horns were honking through downtown.

And the scene will be similar — if not more raucous — at 8 p.m. Saturday, when Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders in the MLS championship game (Fox, UniMas).

“We felt it all week,” Bradley said. “I dropped my son off at school [Wednesday morning] and every kid that walked into that elementary school had a TFC jersey on, and most of the parents as well. You could feel it in the city, that people have really taken notice, people are proud, excited, [Wednesday night] was a special night. [This Saturday], we want to do one better.”

Bradley said the excitement around the locker room had been building for days.

“All week we spoke about what [Wednesday night] could be,” Bradley said. “Obviously, nobody knew for sure. We had an idea it could be a special night, in terms of atmosphere, emotion — in some ways 10 years of emotion, coming out in one night. Every person who came into this stadium [Wednesday night] came because this club, this city, has never seen a soccer game of this importance. We used every bit of that to our advantage.”

The Toronto-Montreal match was the most-watched MLS game in Canadian history, with an audience of 1.4 million. It is a team that seemed poised for success in 2015, with a lineup that included Bradley and his U.S. teammate, Jozy Altidore of Boca Raton, as well as Italian forward Sebastian Giovinco, who arrived in a high-profile move from Juventus. But Toronto finished in sixth place in the East and lost 3-0 to Montreal in the playoffs.

This year, everything clicked.

“Every single guy at this club has chosen to be at this club and has chosen to be here for a reason,” Bradley said. “We see unbelievable potential: a city, a market, a fan base, a stadium, a training ground. Every box gets checked. There are other clubs that check a lot of boxes; I’m not sure there’s another that checks every box.”

If there is another team that could check every box, it would be Seattle. The Sounders lead the league in attendance with an average crowd of 42,636, most of them decked out in green scarves. Toronto ranks fourth with 26,583 fans per game.

Seattle also comes into the final with a heartwarming story line. Left for dead after a 6-12-2 start, the Sounders parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid and gave the interim job to Brian Schmetzer. The team is 8-2-1 since, in large part because of the late-July addition of Uruguayan national team player Nicolas Lodeiro. Since joining Seattle from Argentine giant Boca Juniors, Lodeiro has eight goals and eight assists in 18 matches.

Jordan Morris, the young American forward, has also been a key player for Seattle in the absence of Clint Dempsey, who was diagnosed with a heart irregularity. Morris scored 12 goals this season and was voted MLS Rookie of the Year.

“It’s funny looking back. Everybody thought we were dead in the water, and now we move on,” Morris said. “This team always believed we were good enough to make it, and we proved a lot of people wrong. We’ve got one more game to go.”

Who’s leading

English Premier League: Chelsea (34), Arsenal (31), Liverpool and Manchester City (30), Tottenham (27).

La Liga: Real Madrid (34), Barcelona (28), Sevilla (27), Atletico Madrid (25), Real Sociedad and Villarreal (23).

Ligue 1: Monaco and Nice (36), PSG (35), Guingamp (26), Lyon (25).

Serie A: Juventus (36), Roma and Milan (29), Lazio, Atalanta and Napoli (28).

Bundesliga: Leipzig (33), Bayern Munich (30), Hertha (27), Hoffenheim (25), Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt (24).

On TV

Sunday: Bournemouth vs. Liverpool (8:30 a.m., NBCSN), Lazio vs. Roma (8:55 a.m., BEIN), Everton vs. Manchester United (11 a.m., NBCSN), America vs. Necaxa (9 p.m., Univision).

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