Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.
From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of Saturday’s championship game against the visiting Seattle Sounders. Nine months into the season, egos have been left by the door for the two finalists.
“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, who won MLS Cups with Real Salt Lake and Portland.
“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”
Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.
‘This is a team game’
“No,” he said definitively.
“This isn’t personal, this is a team game,” he said when pressed further. “We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through.
“This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”
Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.
“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.
Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.
That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $ 7.12 million US for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $ 51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.
For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.
“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that — their job and not about the other people on the team. And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”
And for marquee players like Altidore, Giovinco and captain Michael Bradley, as well as key veterans like defender Drew Moor, this is what they came from. In addition to a big paycheque, they saw the potential of the club and the Toronto fans’ hunger for success.
They know one big step remains.
“The group is a business-as-usual group,” Vanney said after the Eastern Conference final win over Montreal. “We’ve seen it from them all year.”