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Toronto FC continues remarkable MLS roll, clinching Supporters' Shield


TORONTO — Sitting in the Toronto FC locker-room, Drew Moor nursed a beer and smiled.

In his 13th Major League Soccer season, the veteran defender had finally won the Supporters' Shield — which goes to the team with the best regular-season record.

Moor, who won the MLS Cup in 2010 with Colorado and lost it last season with Toronto, savoured the moment — which has actually taken eight-plus months given TFC opened training camp Jan. 24. 

Like hockey's Presidents' Trophy, the Supporters' Shield is an odd piece of hardware. It's like leading a marathon for 40 kilometres — impressive but hardly notable unless you can hang on for the final 2.195 kilometres.

But unlike hockey, most domestic soccer championships around the globe are decided by league standings. So while the playoffs loom large in MLS, finishing the class of the regular season still means something.

Toronto (19-5-8) sealed the deal with a 4-2 win over the visiting New York Red Bulls (12-12-7) on Saturday night. With two games remaining in the regular season, TFC has an unassailable nine-point lead over its nearest rival.

For captain Michael Bradley, earning the Supporters' Shield makes good on a pre-season goal of "going for it every weekend, not taking any nights off, not tossing any games away, not thinking that we could coast through different parts of the season."

"We wanted to win the Supporters' Shield badly," he added. "To wrap it up tonight, to do it in our stadium, in front our fans, it's a big accomplishment for every guy in here, for the club. We're going to enjoy it, but starting tomorrow everybody understands that there's one more trophy still to be passed out this year. And we want to make sure that we're the ones who they're giving it to."

Toronto came oh so close last season, losing the Cup final to Seattle after a game that saw the Sounders fail to put a shot on net prior to the penalty shootout that decided it.

For the record, it has taken Toronto 11 seasons, nine managers and 110 regular-season wins to prove the once sad-sack franchise is now the class of the league.

Some thought the high-profile arrival of England striker Jermain Defoe in January 2014 might turn the tide. But it was the player sitting beside him that day who helped lead the franchise out of the MLS wilderness.

"I can tell you all I have never been more excited, more determined and more motivated for any challenge in my entire career," Bradley told a packed news conference back then.

There was plenty of work to do, given he was joining a 6-17-11 team.

"When I first got here obviously there was a good amount of skepticism from the fans, from the city," he recalled Saturday night. "Because obviously the team had been so well-supported, there was so much potential. But they hadn't quite found the right way to get things going on the field.

"It's not been easy, it's not necessarily happened overnight. But little by little, we've gotten it to the point where I think every person who comes into this stadium, every person in this city is proud of the team that we have. That's what it's all about."

Winning the Supporters' Shield also means Toronto has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That's one big poker chip given the team has lost just twice (MLS Cup included) at BMO Field since Oct. 1, 2016.

Of the previous 20 Supporters' Shield winners, only six have gone on to win the MLS Cup. Another lost in the Cup final, seven were eliminated in the conference championship, while seven exited in the conference semifinals.

Toronto, however, is on a remarkable roll.

It has already set club records for wins in a season (19), total points (65), goals scored (71), home wins (12), home points (39), road wins (seven), road points (26) and stands as the first club in league history to have two six-match winning streaks in a single season.

Fifteen players have scored for Toronto this season.

It has topped the league standings since July 19, won the Voyageurs Cup as Canadian champion and secured a playoff berth with six weeks remaining in the regular season — matching the fastest post-season qualification since 2006.

Toronto is on pace to surpass a number of league records, including most goals per game and the greatest margin of goal differential in a single season.

And with two games remaining, it ranks fourth in league history with 65 points. The 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy, whose roster included TFC coaches Greg Vanney, Robin Fraser and Dan Calichman, hold the record with 68.

Vanney maintains this Toronto team is the best in league history. It has two regular-season games and potentially five playoff games left to prove it.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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