Toronto — Seven days ago, Toronto FC were hoping for the club's first piece of silverware. Now they're just scratching to find a silver lining.
Two humbling road defeats will do that to you, firstly at the hands of Houston Dynamo last Saturday, as Dwayne De Rosario's return to Texas saw the Reds played off the park in an embarrassing 3-0 reverse, and latterly, and far more crushing, against West Coast rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps, a 2-0 loss that, barring a miracle, mathematically ended Toronto's hopes of a Canadian Championship.
But it wasn't just the on-field results – or lack thereof – that have culminated in what is quite possibly the worst week in the franchise's 21/2-year history.
The Real Madrid friendly on Aug. 7, officially announced on Thursday, nearly a week after it was first revealed in The Globe and Mail, set in motion a sequence of events that have done little to draw favour with the ever-expectant fans at BMO Field.
Bringing in one of the world's biggest soccer clubs tends to require a certain amount of flexibility, and a result, a home fixture against the rival New York Red Bulls, originally slated for Aug. 9 and with enormous playoff ramifications in the crowded Eastern Conference, was brought forward to June 13.
Quite apart from the impact on supporters' summer plans, this change means than neither Amado Guevara, TFC's leading scorer, nor right back Marvell Wynne will likely be available for the game, owing to international commitments with Honduras and the United States, respectively, and based on the way the team played in their absence during Tuesday's loss in Vancouver, a crucial three points could go begging.
But maybe the playoffs aren't that important to owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. While TFC fans this year expected nothing less than the franchise's first postseason appearance to go along with an envisioned Canadian Championship and the accompanying CONCACAF Champions League berth, the lost revenue of an possible November home date with a New England Revolution or a D.C. United would more than be made up with the guaranteed visit of the nine-time European champions, albeit for an exhibition. The possible presence of a Kaka or Cristiano Ronaldo will do that for you, even if fans are upset that the game isn't part of their season-ticket packages, and quibbling what are expected to be grossly overinflated ticket prices, set to be released Monday.
But it wasn't just the supporters who expected to see Toronto capture its first silverware in club history with a win or a draw in Vancouver – the team even went so far as to put the champagne on ice just in case there was something to celebrate at Swangard stadium on Tuesday. As it was, the only pop was provided by Ansu Toure, whose two goals pretty virtually guaranteed that a United Soccer Leagues First Division club will win the Nutrilite Canadian Championship for the second successive year after the Montreal Impact's inaugural success. Toronto FC, the only representative of the supposedly superior Major League Soccer, will now either have to win 4-0 in Montreal, or, in all likelihood, wait until next year.
Still, as ever, another Saturday means another match day pregnant with the possibility of hope. Coming off their two successive defeats, the team, still third in the East with a .500 record (4-4-4), will naturally be revved up against the Los Angeles Galaxy, sans David Beckham, with the England squad for today's match in Kazakhstan after his loan spell with AC Milan, and star U.S. striker Landon Donovan, also on international duty.
And while they shouldn't need it, if extra motivation is required they may find it in the stands, as today also marks the first return of former head coach John Carver, fit, healthy and back in town on vacation after resigning his position at the end of April.