Toronto pride hits the road

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- This is our house.

Those words have never been more appropriate.

It was a road team playing in a home environment as Toronto FC kicked off its 2008 Major League Soccer campaign in Columbus.

Some 2,500 TFC supporters made the seven-hour trek to Columbus sending a clear message -- wherever they play, home team beware: TFC is here.

From a plane flying above Columbus Crew Stadium delivering the message, "Go Reds Go", the pre-game tailgate party that couldn't be stopped even by taser-toting Columbus Police or the voice of the red masses, singing in unison before and throughout the game, the ambience screamed Toronto pride.

The dichotomy between the passion of the TFC supporters and the sheer ambivalence of the Columbus supporters were clear from the get-go. Amazingly so, considering any sleep deprivation or road weariness the TFC supporters were experiencing.

Picture this: 5 a.m. on a cold Saturday in front of BMO Field -- the TFC masses, many still feeling the effects of the night before, or better yet still partaking in the festivities, with a mandate -- be loud, be proud.

This, of course, was made easier through liquid courage. Nothing says rise and shine like a cold beer and a song about Danny Dichio.

Hardcore fan support is not new to Toronto, but TFC is proving to be a special case. Sure, there are Maple Leafs fans, Raptors fans and Blue Jays fans wherever they go on the road, but not at this level and commitment. And the fans remain true to the cause.

All of this support for a team just one year into its existence. All of this support for a team that failed to score for a record 824 minutes in its inaugural campaign. All this for a team that did very little to strengthen its roster in the off-season.

All of this doesn't matter. What matters is the soccer, and just as important, the party.

Soccer analyst and head of the York University soccer program, Paul James isn't surprised by the enthusiastic support.

"It's going to just get bigger and better." James said. "I can see the day when we'll end up taking 5,000 fans to stadiums."

But on a larger scale, James believes the passion and commitment of TFC fans could revolutionize the way North American sport is followed.

"It has got a chance of changing the sports fan. What European and Latin American soccer means in terms of the support is legitimately being replicated here."

And to fans like Matthew Patryluk, the motive for being apart of the travelling fan experience is simple.

"It's all about the soccer," Patryluk said. "I went to six games at the last World Cup and the fan support here is every bit as passionate as the fans from Argentina and Germany. It's bone-chilling."

While this might well be the case, the draw of the party scene plays a huge factor.

Cue tailgating -- Toronto style.

Whether it was the singing and dancing around the over-sized bass drum of the Red Patch Boys, or Torontonians so kindly offering their assistance to free a police car from the mud, only to have their soccer ball confiscated by Columbus' finest -- TFC fans left their mark.

Jack Depoe, president of the Red Patch Boys, acknowledged this is what comes with being a TFC supporter.

"(An MLS team) was long overdue in Toronto. The team did a great job in finding its fan base, finding who its support is and you can see it around you. It has embraced its support and this is the result," Depoe said.

"Soccer fans are a special breed and you see what kind of environment that can be created in an away stadium," James added.

That environment couldn't help TFC to a win this day, but in the hearts and minds of the supporters making the trip, victory belonged to them.


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