It Had To Be Stefan Frei
I don’t know if I believe in fate or Karma or the impact of the spiritual when it comes to sports. Not sure if players blessing themselves before they cross the white line onto the field of play actually does anything. Not sure if being hexed or possessed of nothing but bad ‘luck’ means anything either. But this heart breaker loss for my Toronto FC has gotten me thinking about the power of these sorts of intangibles.
The irony of Stefan Frei being the primary reason why the Reds could not get themselves over the line in MLS Cup the way we all hoped for I don’t think is lost on many of us. Toronto FC I feel did Frei dirty in his time here. He left Toronto most likely feeling disrespected and not treated with the courtesy that a long serving and long suffering player deserved to be.
I remember very clearly the last day that Frei was on the TFC roster. He was sitting at ninety nine caps and had the chance to with an appearance in the starting eleven to become the first Red to ever make 100 appearances. It would have been a simple way to reward a special player with a record that he deserved to have that could never ever be taken from him.
As was the standard practice at the time TFC was well out of the playoffs in October 2013 when the final game of that season took place. There was nothing that the Reds had to play for other than pride that day. Bendik was the locked on starter at the time and with Frei only getting three starts all season after being out roughly a year and half off and on with injury, and being on a high wage to boot, it was obvious that Stefan was likely to move on at the end of the season. But for once TFC could do right by a player who was nothing but a servant to the club in his time here and who was just about one of the only rays of light on the field that we had through a very dark period for the club.
Toronto FC would have lost nothing for once by doing right by a player. The club could have allowed Frei to say his goodbyes on the field to the supporters that appreciated him and his contributions and maybe gained a little ‘karma’ for once back in return. And of course they chose not to.
So if you believe in the power of ‘what comes around goes around’ you might want to take a look back at Frei’s miracle save on Altidore in the second half of extra time last weekend. Perhaps if Frei was not as motivated as he probably was to not only win the ultimate MLS prize but to get one over on the team that did wrong by him in the past he does not make that save. Perhaps deep down in his psyche he was able to leap just that inch further that he needed to to paw that ball away and keep his club in the game as it headed to penalties because he did not want TFC to get another one over on him.
I’m sure only he knows and I don’t think a pro like Frei would ever let anyone know what was in his head on the day. Whatever the case the symbolism of him of all players being arguably the primary reason why Toronto FC was not able to get over the line and secure MLS Cup is not lost on me at least.
Toronto FC 2016 is not the TFC of Mo Johnston, Tom Anselmi, Paul Mariner or Aron Winter. TFC has under the current regime shown itself to be finally a model franchise in this league. Coveted free agents like Drew Moor CHOSE to come here this season. World class talents like Bradley, Altidore and Giovinco CHOSE to come here previous to that. No longer is this club looked at a laughingstock and an embarrassment. The competence and ambition the club has shown on the business end of things for a decade has finally been matched with professionalism and competence on the Soccer side of the operation. I for one find it hard to accept that the current TFC management team would have it in them to intentionally disrespect a player or treat them in as poor a fashion as they once did to Stefan Frei.
My hope for the future is the outcome of this past game was the last time that we have to pay for our history. In my video that I posted last week ahead of MLS Cup I stated that truly feel that our past is the past (You can check it out here: https://youtu.be/EWgtIWyECe0). Its our history yes but no longer does it need to be our preoccupation. The past should be now only looked upon as a cautionary tale, nothing more. That old TFC does not define who this club is – the 2016 version does! They could not get themselves over the line and lost the ultimate prize in as close a fashion as this sport allows you to do but 2016 for Toronto FC was not without its rewards.
Getting one over on Montreal in spectacular fashion in the playoffs is something I will always remember, and something we will always have over them. Winning the Voyageurs Cup in the way we did versus Vancouver AND securing Champions League soccer again is something that is soon forgot so close after the loss of the MLS Cup, but what a wonderful run that was as well.
Perhaps the one thing I will remember most about 2016 for TFC is how the fans and moreover the wider city embraced this club. The Reds are now truly relevant in this city , well beyond their base coming into this season – and there is one thing I moticed from the MLS Cup game that made me believe this.
You see I have not sat for more than a handful of games that I have seen at BMO Field over the years. In season one I had a package of seats in the second deck of the west side of the stadium where we HAD to sit. Once I got into the south end in 2008 permanent my my days of sitting at TFC Games was over. From my vantage point in section 113 last Saturday I saw the ENTIRE STADIUM STANDING for the entire match. That was not just due to the sense of occasion. That was due to the 30,000 odd Toronto FC Supporters (some tourists joined by many thousands of day one season seat holders) doing what they could to try and get their club over the line. I’ve never seen that happen before in probably 200 odd visits I’ve made to BMO Field over the years. Long may THAT sort of thing continue.
So if Karma is a thing I say that TFC’s debt is paid. The slate is wiped clean. The ledger is balanced. We are not losers anymore in spite of last weekend’s result. After ten years we are the kind of club we should be proud to embrace. Sadly we don’t have a MLS Cup to celebrate this week but we can celebrate the simple fact that we are finally and truly liberated now from our past and the baggage that came along with it.
Hope is restored.
And win or lose, hope is what’s its all about right?