I love hating Toronto FC. If Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment blew all their money on hookers and blow and TFC had to fold tomorrow, I'd be sad because it's so much fun to watch those sons-of-bitches lose and they oblige so very often. When Terry Dunfield played for Vancouver I defended him as a decent and useful player. Now that he plays at Toronto I laugh at him for being fat, not because he's a less effective player or less of a consummate gentleman and professional, but because it's fun. That's what Toronto FC means to me. Joy in their every flaw.
So you can imagine that the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League, which Toronto has torn through like the Canadian Army in a snowstorm, hasn't been much fun for me. Every few weeks I dutifully make an #MLS4(whoever Toronto is playing) hashtag on Twitter, the pundits say Toronto's going to lose (except for that one time when I didn't), and every time Toronto hangs tough, shows quality missing through half a decade of MLS futility, and lives to fight another day.
It's disgusting, and what's even more disgusting than that is I'm starting to hope they keep going.
I hate to hate Santos Laguna, the black spot on the Maple Leaf, the Wehrmacht to our Belgium. Back when I was an Edmonton Aviators widow they beat the Montreal Impact in the most heartbreaking game since August 1993, depriving Canada of its first appearance in the Champions League semi-final. They do everything I despise in a soccer team: they flop, they clip ankles and kick calves, they whine like preferential treatment is a birthright. They're owned by the brewery responsible for Corona, the least tolerable horse piss in the universe, and they earn the stigma due the big, arrogant favourite against the lame-legged minnow which has never learned what playoffs look like.
Quite against my will, I find myself wanting Toronto to win today. And, should they do so, I find myself hoping they win going forward.
"For the good of the country!" is usually a bad argument. What's good for Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Montreal is generally only good for Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Montreal. When the Impact beat the Whitecaps in the 2009 USL First Division final, we saw two Canadian clubs playing exciting soccer before sold-out crowds with media giving those teams the attention they deserved. Outside Vancouver and Montreal, nobody cared and there was no great soccer boom in those two cities either. The same thing happened when Toronto beat the Galaxy in the quarter-final. Big ticket sales at SkyDome, plenty of raving attention from Toronto-based sports personalities, but there was hardly the flicker of an eyelash from anybody outside the Toronto FC circle who wasn't either a diehard or paid to care about these things.
Don't ever buy any "Canada's team!" bullshit. There's nothing obligatory about cheering on the last Canadian team standing, and I think the majority of my Whitecaps-fan readers will wish nothing but failure and despair on the FCs tonight. This is a strictly individual opinion, but I admit it's coming from a nationalist part of my heart.
We are on the verge of something truly historic; not "bullshit historic" like beating the Americans in a U-23 game or getting out of the group stage of something but real history. Toronto FC beating Santos Laguna would be satisfying, because fuck Santos Laguna. This country owes them a shitkicking they won't forget. But that victory would put Toronto into the Champions League final against the winner of Monterrey - Universidad Nacional, where no Canadian team has been before and which only one MLS side has ever seen. Even counting the Champions League's imbecile father, the CONCACAF Champions Cup, that's the only MLS club to make the final this century.
I mean, if the first MLS club to win the modern CONCACAF Champions League was Canadian... if every time some lazy journalist cruised to Wikipedia he saw the Maple Leaf with pride of place over the Stars and Stripes... if ESPN and TSN were showing an MLS club in the same competition as Barcelona or Boca Juniors for all the marbles and that MLS club was from Ontario... that would mean something, wouldn't it? I want to convince myself it would just be a laughable sideshow, that nobody would remember it in six months. Ask the guy in the BC Place beer lineup who won the last CONCACAF Champions League. Heck, at the time I was writing this article even I had forgotten; I knew someone beat Real Salt Lake but had to check that Monterrey did the beating.
Then again, I remembered that they beat Real Salt Lake, and it was Salt Lake's appearance which made history. Even though Salt Lake lost (gallantly), they were memorable beyond the borders of Utah. Their achievement won't live forever, but it reached further and has lasted longer than anything else Real Salt Lake has done. A Toronto victory in the Champions League would reverberate loudest in Toronto, and its fans would be the only ones celebrating rather than smiling, but the vibrations would still be felt across the country and even across the border.
On the world stage, the FIFA Club World Cup is not the grandest of tournaments, but it's something no Canadian has ever experienced. The smaller clubs certainly enjoy their chance to face the best of Europe and South America in anger, and the big clubs treat the competition as important enough that they dominate the winner's circle. When TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of the Congo stunned both Mexico's Pachuca and Brazil's Internacional in the 2010 competition, it was big news across Africa and sent many of its heroic players on to much larger leagues.
For Toronto to be a part of that... it's hard to admit, even to myself, but as a TFC hater I'd enjoy it. I wouldn't celebrate or party even if they won the whole damned thing, but I'd be pleased that it happened. And then I'd root like hell for them to get crushed next year, same as always.