An Op-Ed from David Miller:
David Miller here. It’s 5:15PM [Saturday, at the time of writing], an hour after the TFC / Red Bull game finished, and my left foot is still numb. My head is in a fog, like my brain was using all of its energy to help my body stay warm. The game seems that way too, like the smoke from the pre-game fireworks never really left. I’m not even sure what I just saw.
I was looking forward to this one – our boys finally at home after a more or less two-year hiatus; a new, experienced and wise coach in Bob Bradley; the progress of our youth like Ralph Priso and JMR, and the arrival of Jesus. Plus it’s the Red Bulls. It would be great to break their press and score lots of goals, particularly on the day their former manager Jesse Marsch lost his Premier League debut as the new manager at Leeds.
The last TFC game I attended in person was the home opener two years ago, the last game before the COVID shut down. I’d been to almost every home game in the team’s history at that point, and there was no way I was going to miss the home opener, despite worry about this strange new virus (Afterwards, it seemed like an incredibly stupid thing to do – both to have the game and to attend).
I was with my friends Andy from Boston, Jeff and Sriram, and Jeff, Sriram and I had been to all three MLS Cup finals together. There was huge anticipation for that game, even if it felt a little odd without the usual pre-game ritual of a pint of Guinness at Shoeless Joes. Joe had, presciently as it turned out, refused his landlord’s massive rent increase, and closed the previous December.
But except for that, it was classic TFC. Atmosphere. Good skill on the pitch. Singing. Beautiful green pitch. And then … two years.
Two years later, everything was odd. TFC looked fine, except when they didn’t. There were lots of kids who looked fine except when they didn’t. Why wouldn’t Nelsen play one or two touch soccer? Why was Jakheele so good on the ball but so out of position on at least two goals? Why did Pozuelo (POZUELO????) have no first touch? Was anyone ever going to pass to Jesus? How and why did our players let them score while we (the supporters) were singing Danny Dichio?
Why did Michael Bradley look like the best player on the pitch? Why is Oso so smooth? How did NYC score off our corner? How did they score four when they never looked like scoring until late in the second half? Why couldn’t Bono save anything until we were down four already? Why did the referees decide to have a four-minute VAR review for offside in the 88th minute of a 4-1 game, when everyone just wanted to go home. Where was Jozy anyway?
Most of all, why did it feel so damned cold, colder than the 2016 or 2017 finals by far?
I wonder if the grass knew something. It didn’t bother to show up, half-dead, with the lines from the last Argo game in December clearly visible on the pitch, as if the grass surrendered that day and said “I’ve had enough”.
That’s how today felt. Not frustrating. Not upsetting. Not annoying. Like I’d had enough, and just needed to go home.
The best thing about the day, for me, was post-game. As I trudged down the stairs with the other inhabitants of the west side upper deck, I slid my frozen hand into my coat pocket to find the key to my bike lock. I couldn’t feel it. At first, I thought the numbness in my hand and fingers was the reason, but I slowly began to realize that I didn’t have the key.
I didn’t really know what to do, and found myself in front of my bike a couple of minutes later staring at the lock as if my stern gaze would force it to open. It slowly dawned on me that what I was looking at was my key, proudly inserted into my bike lock where it had been all game.
I’m not sure what lessons to take on the pitch today – except to wonder if we let go of the groundskeepers during the cleanout of players over the winter – but I know what lesson to take off the pitch. TFC supporters are still the best. Almost a sell-out, despite a frigid day, a patchwork field, and a team very much a work in progress. You can trust them to be there for the team. And for each other. And they don’t steal bikes.
David Miller is a day 1 Toronto FC supporter and a former mayor of the city of Toronto
Follow him on Twitter @IAmDavidMiller
Feature Photo Credit: David Miller at Shoeless Joes by Exhibition TO.