The lyrics to Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” may not apply to anyone as well as they do to Toronto FC.
“Started from the bottom now we’re here/started from the bottom now the whole team here,” the Toronto-born rapper sings in his 2013 hit.
Once the worst team in Major League Soccer, they started the festivities on a blustery Sunday evening at BMO Field by lifting the Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the club with the best regular-season record.
A 1-0 win over the rival Montreal Impact boosted their total to 68 points, tying the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy for the best in league history, with one game to go.
The franchise’s dedicated followers know the Reds’ story well — they’ve lived it. Hence the banner they rolled out across the south-end supporters’ section featuring those Drake lyrics, as the silver shield was presented to team president Bill Manning and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko.
“Obviously there were some dark days in there, that’s for sure. So for all the people in the stadium who have been there since the beginning, today’s for them,” captain Michael Bradley said. “It’s a special day.”
It was a day for celebration. Fans in the south end got a chance to hoist the shield in the stands. Players got their chance after the victory, posing with it for photos before taking a victory lap around the field.
There was a full roster on hand for the moment, with star striker Sebastian Giovinco returning to the starting 11 after missing more than five weeks with a quadriceps strain.
His inclusion was the only change coach Greg Vanney made to the lineup from the Reds’ last game, a 4-2 win over the New York Red Bulls on Sept. 30 that clinched top spot overall. The trophy had to be retrieved from last year’s winner, FC Dallas, before Toronto could take possession Sunday.
The Reds lacked sharpness and continuity as they returned from a two-week international break, at times sloppy defensively against a Montreal team that, while out of playoff contention, wasn’t going to roll over easily in their final meeting of the year.
“Good teams find a way to win, and we found a way to get the three points so that’s most important,” said striker Jozy Altidore, whose 16th-minute goal, after a ball played into the box by midfielder Marky Delgado bounced off a Montreal defender and into his path, was the deciding factor.
Vanney said it was the strangest 1-0 game he has ever been involved with: “It could have been 6-5, or something like that. For us to get a shutout in that game is interesting and fortunate and good hard work — all things combined.”
The most unusual moment was provided by Giovinco, who did everything but score in his comeback.
The striker danced around opposing defender Victor Cabrera in the box in first-half injury time, drawing a penalty. His first attempt went off the base of the left post, but referee Ted Unkel allowed a retake after Montreal goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau stepped off the goal line too early. The second time wasn’t the charm, either: the striker went left again, again smacking the ball off the bottom of the post. Montreal players gave the referee an earful before halftime.
The tide didn’t turn for the visitors. Their best chance was an achingly close attempt early in the second half, pinging from the inside of one post to the other. The ball eventually bounced into Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono’s arms, with Impact striker Matteo Mancosu lurking nearby.
The celebrations continued long after the final whistle, but the Reds know there’s still work to be done.
“I think the guys are doing what they supposed to do and celebrating with the fans, but I think emotionally and mentally they’ve moved beyond that and are concentrating on the next step for our group,” Vanney said.
“I would say a lot of them in there know that tonight we needed to be sharper, we needed to be better, and that’s what they’re going to be thinking about tonight — not necessarily the Supporters’ Shield.”