the great fight north

When they announced MLS Cup 2010 would be held in Toronto, Mike and I immediately knew we’d attend even if the Revs weren’t involved. We’ve got non-soccer buddies who live just blocks from BMO Field, and it’s an easy, if fantastically dull, day’s drive from Boston. So we packed up my car and headed out for yet another adventure in name-dropping and freeloading! Check the photos and join the fun, won’t you?

We split the drive to Toronto into two parts, leaving Boston on Thursday evening for an overnight just outside of Albany. The next morning, we picked up the rest of the drive; disaster struck near Rochester when the fuse controlling the car stereo blew. Oh, wait, there’s a spare under the hood. Rolled up to our friends Dave and Shain’s place around 3 and grabbed some dinner before hitting the first party of the weekend: the Designated Players blogger party.

Last year, the league’s big fancy awards party was on Saturday; this year, it was on Friday, and it turned out that we got to the bar just as the league party had broken. This meant we showed up dressed as the schlubby fans we are, only to be followed in by a bunch of players in suits. Sadly, Jimmy Conrad was not wearing the ruffly tux from last year. We did get to meet both Chris Wondolowski and Edson Buddle, the latter of which was very polite about posing for a photo with us and some guy with what was later described as an “anti-social beard.” Caught up with all the usual blogger suspects, got to ask Sam from KC how many times that day he’d had to justify their re-brand, and goosed Alexi Lalas. We were going to ask Jon Conway for his fond memories of that one Carlos Mendes own goal, but he was busy collecting phone numbers, so we decided to be nice and not cockblock him any more than you’d think his bow tie and sweater vest combo would.

The next day, we went out with Dave and Shain to brunch/shopping with Steph, another non-soccer buddy. That afternoon, Mike attended a “supporters’ group roundtable” with delegates from around the league, including league management, to discuss fan-related issues for next year. Mostly, they’re concerned about making sure away fans get the same treatment at every stadium, that there are no surprises when trying to buy tickets, bring in tifo and whatnot, etc. Also, apparently people are really stuck on yelling “you suck, asshole” at goalies, and the more the league points out this is kind of lame, the more people want to do it.

Saturday night, we joined the TFC supporters’-run party over at Shoeless Joe’s. The place was absolutely jammed with fans of every team around the league, plus a few unfortunate locals who’d showed up to watch that night’s UFC bout. Oh, you could see the fight, you just had to watch it surrounded by people singing the same song over and over with one line changed to suit whatever team they follow. Best tune of the night: Dallas fans singing the theme song to Dallas, the tv show. Who cares that it’s an instrumental?

Usually, the Supporters’ Summit, where fans from all the teams meet and do a QA session with Don Garber and various other league suits, is held the Saturday before the game, but this year, it was held on the morning of the game. Naturally, Mike and I opted to sleep through most of it, figuring we already knew most of what Garber had to say. We did get there in time for the free lunch (note to event caterers: please don’t put the sign identifying “vegetarian” sandwiches in front of the tuna and salmon options, thanks) and the referee QA. The referee QA’s always fun, because you get to hear them explain many of the year’s controversial calls; this year’s highlight was watching the Dallas fans emphatically argue why Thierry Henry’s run-in with Kevin Hartman merited the death penalty.

While this was happening, Mike wandered off around the function space, where he chatted with Bruce from DuNord about how easy it would be to walk away with the MLS Cup trophy that was sitting in front of them. “Naw, I’m pretty sure Garber knows who we are,” said Mike, “he’d be all ‘look, very funny, but really, Bruce, get back here…'”

We went back to Dave and Shain’s house to relax for a bit before the game itself, then, around 5 or so, headed back to the stadium to take in the Tour de Free Shit the sponsors throw for the fans outside the game. You mostly walk around and play carnival games and sign up for mailing lists in trade for things like hats, bags, scarves, etc. We got several free winter hats destined for our favorite homeless teen shelter. They also usually have random players signing autographs at these things; I told Andy Najar I would personally paint him a banner when he announces his intentions to play for the US, and he replied with the polite stare of someone who’s just answered that question thirty times in the past hour. We also finally did get to chat with Jon Conway about that one own goal. Good times, good times.

The “Somehow I Don’t Think You Thought Your Cunning Plan All the Way Through” award went to American Airlines, whose tent had a scavenger hunt/points collection for prizes deal where in order to get the top prize, you had to show them you were their friend on Facebook. Not only did this require you have a Facebook account (I don’t, long story), if you were from south of the border, you most likely had to enable data roaming on your phone to do this. I tried making a deal (“dude, here’s my frequent flyer card, will that count?”) but no sale.

As we were making the rounds, I noticed a credential on the ground. “Oh, that’ll make a neat souvenir,” Mike said.

“No, this is for an event that’s going on right now, let’s try it,” I replied. I’d like to stress here that if it hadn’t been clearly the kind of item whomever lost it could just replace with an ID at Will Call, I wouldn’t have exploited it. But it was, so we did, and nobody checked to see why it was we just sauntered in to a hospitality suite that was allegedly a Canada-only offer. Free food, beer for Mike, match programs, souvenirs, sushi, hand warmers, then they brought in Nat Borchers, Jaime Moreno, Jamison Olave, and the ingenious wax replica currently listed as Toronto’s head coach for a Q&A/autograph signing. As we left the event, Mike and I burst out laughing, wondering when our life had turned into a Mentos ad.

Then the evening got sillier.

We joined four other friends–two DC, two Toronto–to watch the game. Shortly before the end of the first half, one of the DC guys notices someone in the luxury box nearest us. “Hey, I think that’s Eddie Pope,” he said. “Wait, I have his number, let me text him and see.” Sure enough, the guy in the box got up and looked at his phone, so we made arrangements to meet him at HT. I congratulated Pope on his hometown having recently gotten its third traffic light.

As we stood outside chatting, we couldn’t help noticing that every time the door to the suite opened, we’d spot another player we knew. Turns out it was the players’ union suite, everyone prepping for a long session of meetings the next day.

“So,” said one of our DC pals, sensing an opportunity, “got any room in there for…six more?”

We returned to our less luxurious seats and watched the second half of the game. When regulation ended, our Toronto pals suggested that we walk over to the section where they’d stashed the traveling Colorado and Dallas fans, figuring that would be the best vantage point should the game end in penalty kicks. As we were walking around the stadium, one of the Toronto guys recognized a familiar face. “Hey, it’s Mo Fucking Johnston!”

MoJo whirled around to yell at us. “Man, why you gotta be a prick,” he said, then started to angle for a fight. Seriously. He started getting up in our buddy’s face, to the point that MoJo’s companion had to pull him back and tell him to be cool as they walked away. All six of us just looked at each other and agreed that we each individually would have folded him like a card table, except we were out of breath from laughing so hard at the idea that this guy had just threatened to get in a fistfight with our nerdy asses.

We watched the rest of the game from the center section between the two traveling fan groups, wincing in sympathy with our Dallas buddies and offering congrats to our Colorado ones. Jeff Larentowicz is Ray Boruque! It’s funny because it’s depressing. On the way out, we got the best piece of swag of the night–in the detritus left over from the fan festival, someone had abandoned a brand new extension cord. “Oooh, that’s handy!” said the guy walking ahead of us; who knew Red Green went to TFC games? Postgame, we went out with Dave and Shain for some milkshakes before calling it a night.

The next morning, we got up, packed the car full of all the swag we’d collected, and hit the road back to Cambridge. We might not have had as quite a party-packed weekend as the previous year, when we were rocking on the league’s dime, but we still had a fantastic time. On to next year!

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