There was something a tad naive about the voracity with which Toronto FC fans greeted the final whistle Wednesday night, as their team triumphed 2-1 over the Whitecaps.
If it was just an MLS regular season game, the reaction might have been warranted. Jermaine Defoe and Michael Bradley, Toronto's two superstars scored on either side of half-time in top dollar fashion... with cool, composed precision. On any other day, that would have been three points with the two highest profile players justifying their worth. But this was not just a game, this was the first leg of two-game total goals series, in which away goals count as the first tiebreaker.
And Toronto's opponent wasn't a full-fledged MLS experienced squad, it was a team of kids including three 17-year-olds. A 19-year-old (Kekuta Manneh) came off the bench and bagged a critical goal in second half stoppage time, that puts the Whitecaps in pretty good shape heading home for that second leg next Wednesday at BC Place (7:30pm pt).
It was a Whitecaps team that averaged just over 22 years of age, or about five years younger per player than those in red. The average salary per player, well... that was about a 15-1 difference favouring TFC on the night.
And so the context of Wednesday's win should have garnered a different reaction from the home faithful. They should have been annoyed that TFC didn't capitalize on some of its gilt-edged chances in the first half, which might have seen a much wider scoreline at the break. And they should have been devastated at conceding a goal in the dying embers of the second half, having just been put in a great 2-0 position by Michael Bradley's marauding run and clinical finish minutes before. And all of that occurring at home, against a team that is still learning how to shave!
The combatants Wednesday gave us an interesting illustration of two entirely different approaches to building a club. I, for one, have absolutely no problem with a team in Canada executing arguably the biggest off-season double swoop in MLS history. It's a top-down approach which has (it's early, yes) seemingly paid off already. Interest has been renewed along with many season tickets, in a market that has been exceedingly tolerant of rebuilds.
But there's a temporary feeling to that philosophy, much like BMO field itself. Built for today, not for tomorrow. (That, by the way, will change upon approval of an ambitious $100 million redesign to TFC's home.)
To use a Mother's Day example, is it better to give Mom a beautiful store-bought bouquet or pick the ones you grew in your garden? If Mom's happy either way, does the method matter?
The Whitecaps are committed to growing their own. Perhaps that's the reason for so much enthusiasm in Vancouver right now; the sense of sustainability from a foundation built on youth. The tangible potential was there for everyone to see, even though the end product wasn't.
Time will tell which supporters will be cheering the loudest on final whistles to come as two Canadian clubs chart their courses into the future. But I get the feeling after Wednesday, Whitecaps fans are pretty optimistic about the ship they're sailing on.