And there is little suggestion that LA, already qualified for the playoffs, have reason to take their foot of the pedal. Considering TFC’s game-in-hand against all of the sides they’re chasing in the Eastern Conference standings it’s clear that the Reds actually have the larger margin-of-error. For Toronto, points in this match are a bonus, rather than a necessity.
In comparison, the Galaxy are tied atop the standings with the Sounders in what has boiled down to a two-horse race for the Supporter’s Shield. The Sounders have already bagged this year’s US Open Cup and, with the chance of a historic domestic treble, it’s unlikely LA will simply cede the second major honour of the season. The right to play for the biggest prize of the season, MLS Cup, won’t be decided until November – and Arena has proven a master of dashing Seattle’s ambitions therein – but the games before then are the latest manifestation of the rivalry between Arena and Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. The Sounders and Galaxy will meet in decisive back-to-back games to end the season but dropping points at home to Toronto FC before then would be less than advantageous in the build-up to that series.
From a Toronto FC perspective, the other interesting subplot to the match is that, unless they somehow meet in the MLS Cup Final, this is the last time Reds supporters will see their team face Landon Donovan. The California native announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season earlier this year bringing a seemingly premature end to what has probably been the most successful MLS career in the league’s emerging history.
Even more than David Beckham (who had his fans), Landon Donovan was, amongst TFC fans, probably the most reviled player in MLS when the Reds commenced play back in 2007. Donovan’s intimate association with the American national team and poster-boy of American soccer status practically made him an avatar for most of the things that early Toronto fan culture made a specific point of rejecting. The worst songs and loudest boos were always reserved for Donovan when he visited BMO Field.
It may just be my own perception, but the sense I get is that much of that loathing has subsided in the seven years since. The reality is that for all the accusations of entitlement, watching Donovan, and seeing what he has meant to the growth of MLS, has made it much harder to hold a grudge. No fair minded observer can argue that he hasn’t been successful, be it in MLS, with the U.S. national team, or even in his stints in the Premier League.
If the last match Donovan plays versus TFC has a final irony it is this: with Donovan’s surprising and controversial omission from the American World Cup squad it is actually the Canadian side that will field an American World Cup star. Toronto FC fans, who once specifically despised Donovan precisely for his American role, can only hope that Michael Bradley can do for their side what Donovan has done for the Galaxy. It’s a strange and unlikely change in perspective, but hopefully says something about the maturation of the Toronto fan base and the club’s too long delayed nestling into the conventions of MLS. Certainly, years of trying to do things their own way never proved successful.