Toronto FC were 45 minutes away from making history, 45 minutes from not only shocking CONCACAF but from taking a giant step forward that would benefit all of MLS.
Then the bottom fell out.
Santos Laguna scored four second-half goals to down the Canadians by 6-2 on Tuesday and won their CCL semifinal series by an aggregate score of 7-3. Santos killed MLS’s hopes of having a representative in the final for the second consecutive year.
There are two things that came out of this result. First, Toronto FC fought harder and lasted longer than many gave them credit for. Secondly, MLS is still far behind the Mexican league level.
Now, Toronto FC is not exactly the bar for MLS teams. That bar has been raised and held there by Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy and a scant few others but for the most part the bar is set. That bar is still well below Mexico’s bar. Now, there are reasons for this. Mexican teams have no salary cap, greater resources, greater support from their communities and run unopposed in their media and within the Mexican culture. MLS clubs don’t enjoy the financial resources as their Mexican counterparts nor do they enjoy the other luxuries Mexican teams have.
Within those guidelines then, Toronto FC’s run was made more remarkable. Toronto FC got past the supposed juggernaut the Galaxy were and fared better than Seattle against the same Santos side – Seattle gave up two quick goals and all hope seemed lost afterward.
Toronto FC won’t be challenging for the MLS Cup title, at least few can see that happening. Their league form this season has been poor – losses to Seattle, San Jose and Columbus have marred the start of their season. And still, even while not being part of the cup contenders, Toronto FC nearly found themselves playing for a much bigger prize.
Now, while MLS is not quite the powerhouse league many would like to believe it is but when less-successful teams like Toronto FC can battle and scrap their way and find a modicum of success against teams like Santos, that has to bode well for both club and league.