Defying all odds, Toronto FC won the Canadian Championship Wednesday night despite being 0-9 in MLS. The TFC players hope the tournament victory will help their league campaign.
The Reds have been famously mired in a record-setting slump in Major League Soccer, so the Voyageurs Cup victory is seen not only as a championship and gateway to the CONCACAF Champions League, but also the chance at a fresh start.
"I think it's a massive boost," TFC defender Richard Eckersley told reporters after the match. "I think I speak for all the guys in [the Toronto locker room]. I'm personally concentrating on the league, I want the league. I want to do well in the league, and I think that's our main focus, but you know we're going to take it because I think it's a big boost for the team, and hopefully we can carry it on into [MLS play]."
The championship win comes at a time when morale was seemingly at an all-time low. Striker Danny Koevermans called his side "the worst team in the world" after TFC's loss at D.C. United over the weekend, a quote that caused much consternation in the lead-up to Wednesday's meeting with Vancouver.
Eckersley said that the positive result in the Canadian Championship hopefully erased much of the bad feelings surrounding the team, at least for the time being.
"It's been frustrating for us, but I bet it's been more frustrating for the fans," the Englishman said. "I just want to thank the fans personally because obviously they were fantastic tonight, they got right behind us. They've been brilliant all season."
Goalkeeper Milos Kocic, who has been outspoken throughout the TFC league losing streak - which reached nine games thanks to Saturday's loss at D.C. - said that the cup win showed that Toronto can compete with better MLS sides, which could bode well for the future.
"We proved that we can actually do something positive this year," Kocic said with a sigh of relief.
The Serbian-born netminder explained that he and his fellow Reds needed to know what winning felt like again, and that - with one eye on the upcoming league match with Philadelphia on the weekend - they'll relish the victory for all its worth.
"You need to celebrate," Kocic said. "I'm not talking about drinking and partying, but you need to celebrate. You need to feel good about this kind of stuff, because we didn't win too many games this year to be able to celebrate. I think this is a good beginning for us."
Despite claiming Canadian superiority for another year and earning another shot at the Champions League, the absurdity that a winless team could be crowned national champion was not lost on the TFC players. It's something that they said they plan to rectify soon, but for now they'll savour the moment.
"You lose nine games and all of a sudden you're a champion," Kocic said laughing at the curious nature of his team's current predicament. "It's kind of like a different mentality in the locker room now. You can hear everybody's happy, everybody's laughing."