Different emotions, same game

Chelsea’s league title defence is not yet at the halfway stage, but here in the States the season has just ended. Canadians won the American championship.

Toronto FC lifted the MLS Cup with a win against the Seattle Sounders, which was more one-sided than the 2-0 scoreline suggests. Jozy Altidore got the breakthrough midway through the second-half while Victor Vazquez sealed it deep in injury time. I was struck by how much football (as in soccer) has changed in the USA. It could have been a crunch title-decider in Italy, Spain or Argentina.

The sell-out crowd in Canada’s biggest city, in near-freezing temperatures, was raucous and rowdy, a seething mass of supporters. The bare-chested young men, the fanatics firing off flares, the drummers and the flag-wavers, a lurching and chanting crowd of more than 30,000. This was a stadium in a traditionally non-footballing country renowned for being laid-back and reserved.

It meant Toronto FC secured the treble as they had already clinched the Supporters' Shield (awarded to the team with the best regular-season record), and, ah, well, the Voyageurs Cup. That’s the Canadian championship which they lifted after beating just one other MLS team, the Montreal Impact. A bit like Swansea winning the Premier League and FA Cup Double, then claiming a treble because they beat Cardiff in the Welsh Cup.

But that’s not to disparage Toronto, for whom USA midfielder and captain Michael Bradley also plays. This year’s decider was a repeat of last year’s final, though then they lost on penalties to their opponents from Washington state. To go from joining the league in 2007 to (inter)national champions in a decade is a stratospheric rise to put Wimbledon’s 1988 FA Cup win in the shade.

For the first eight years of their existence, they never once made the play-offs, even though more than a third of the clubs qualify for the post-season. Indeed in 2012 they set a record by losing their first nine matches in a disastrous campaign that ended with them winning only five times in 34 contests, though of course there is no relegation in the MLS.

On Saturday morning here in Louisiana I tuned in for a disappointing Chelsea result, as the title holders lost to our London rivals, West Ham. Eight hours later I watched fans across the border in Ontario celebrate their first national championship. Different teams, different continents, different emotions. But the same game.