While rain was pouring down and lightning and thunder crashed overhead, I had the chance to talk to some Toronto FC supporters that made the trip down to Rochester for Saturday night's USL match. Huddling under the east side bleachers at Sahlen's Stadium, I regretted not grabbing more french fries from the press box before the game but was also grateful for the opportunity to chat with Brandon Siff and Jonathan Meisenheimer.
The pair, who gave me permission to use their names, traveled down from the Great White North on Friday to catch the WNY Flash game against FC Kansas City. Jonathan actually mentioned that he had followed the Flash since they were located in Buffalo back in the USL W-League days. The Torontonians stayed overnight in Rochester so they could catch the Rhinos face off against Toronto FC II.
Brandon and Jonathan both talked about how pleased they were with the level of competition in USL that they had seen so far in the 2015 season. Brandon specifically mentioned that the TFC academy products were a class above the rest of League 1 Ontario (the regional league that TFC won in an undefeated run in 2014) and needed a tougher challenge.
For these TFC fans, the team's record in USL isn't something to be proud of (sitting in 11th of 12 teams) but they are quick to point out that the team exists in order to develop players and give them an arena to get minutes. Lifting trophies is almost an afterthought, after all if the team was all about silverware it would still have its top guns a-blazing in L1O.
We moved on to talk about how fans, very much like the two of them, perceive short loan stints in USL for MLS players. In particular, we talked about younger players who have been around Toronto FC for a while like Ashtone Morgan.
Jonathan was emphatic that Morgan's earlier loan down to USL should not be seen as him falling out of favor with the coach or not being good enough for MLS. After all, the week before Morgan earned his 100th cap for the Reds - the first player to achieve that mark.
The perspective of these two TFC fans (and I tend to agree) is that Morgan's earlier loan spell was a calculated decision. He wasn't going to start that week in MLS so the coaching staff at Toronto decided that serving a leadership role in the young USL team (one that apparently needs leadership and composure and maturity...) was better than sitting the bench in an MLS stadium.
As the rain continued to pour, these Reds in Rochester confessed that they had respect for the Rochester Rhinos. Since the advent of MLS to Toronto (and the descent of the Toronto Lynx), there's no chance a first-team from Toronto will ever face the Rhinos. Jonathan and Brandon wanted me to know that as long as the two senior-sides never meet, there's no reason we can't support each other from across the border.
While I don't want to prop up stereotypes about how courteous and polite Canadians are, the two TFC fans I spoke to presented themselves as exemplary soccer fans. Brandon and Jonathan traveled to cheer on homegrown players and academy products because they don the Toronto FC jersey.
Knowing that Jonathan and Brandon (and a small band of other TFC supporters) had to make the early morning trip back to Ontario for the season opener at BMO field despite an hour long delay in Rochester made me feel a bit bad about the stoppage time winner. But I remembered that North American soccer doesn't always need to play buddy-buddy when at least one team is playing for a championship.
Note: I'd really like to thank Brandon Siff and Jonathan Meisenheimer for being great sports and a fantastic chat.