Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #21. Because the TFC Has a Secret Weapon

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #21. Because the TFC Has a Secret Weapon

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #21. Because the TFC Has a Secret Weapon (Image: courtesy of MLSE)
 

TFC’s inaugural season in 2007 was the rowdiest ticket in town. Crimson scarf sales skyrocketed, and fan clubs with elaborate cheers and thuggish names (Red Patch Boys, Original 109) proliferated. BMO Field became a loathed venue for opposing players, who dreaded the half-full tallboys hurled at them during goal celebrations. Danny Dichio, the forward who scored the team’s first-ever goal, became a folk hero. Tickets sold on Craigslist for triple their face value. MLSE had stumbled onto a gold mine, and they knew it. Then they blew it. During the seven seasons that followed, they raised ticket prices by 116 per cent despite never making the playoffs. Their fan base, feeling disillusioned and exploited, quickly ­scattered. By 2013, the team was 10th in league attendance.

Then: hope! Tim Leiweke, the L.A. sports executive who’d lured David Beckham to Major League Soccer, arrived in 2013 and declared the resurrection of Toronto FC a top priority. In a bold move, the kind TFC fans had longed for, he spent $100 million to sign six stars. The headlines and ad campaign that followed focused on the flashiest signing: Jermain Defoe, a lightning-quick striker who ranked 14th on the English Premier League’s all-time scoring list. But real fans knew that Michael Bradley, the talented centre midfielder Leiweke pried from Italy’s top league, was the bigger news.

Bradley lacks the scoring titles and name recognition of Defoe, but he’s far more important to the team. As a centre fielder, he sets up Defoe for strikes and defuses the opposing team’s attack. And at age 26, his best years are still ahead of him. (Leiweke wisely locked him up for six years.) If TFC wins, Leiweke and Defoe will get the headlines, but Bradley will almost certainly deserve the credit.