By 5.30pm on a Wednesday evening, you couldn't find a single seat in any one of the numerous pubs in Toronto's Liberty Village. Toronto FC was just two hours away from their first ever home playoff match, and fans left work early to flock to the neighbourhood surrounding the stadium in anticipation of the spectacle that was to come.
Fortunately for them, the home side did not disappoint. With Sebastian Giovinco scoring the opener, hometown hero Jonathon Osorio slotting in the game-winner and Jozy Altidore putting the icing on the cake, TFC had won a playoff match for the first time in franchise history.
What comes next is even more exciting for the passionate fan base, though - a date with Andrea Pirlo and New York City FC.
Despite Pirlo plying his trade in MLS for nearly a year and a half, the maestro has never featured in a game at BMO Field against Toronto FC. When the star-studded squad had come to visit earlier in the year, the 37-year-old was rested. Even with the large crowd - on an evening that TFC had promoted as 'Italian night' at BMO Field - begging for Pirlo to make an appearance in the midweek match, Patrick Viera decided he needed his midfielder rested ahead of the New York derby against the Red Bulls on the weekend.
Sunday will be different.
Much like TFC last year, New York City FC will play their first ever playoff game in franchise history. The club will set foot on the pitch in an electric atmosphere fostered by supporters who have been waiting a decade for this.
For Pirlo - who has played in a World Cup final, a European Championship final, Champions League finals, and numerous domestic finals, it'll be the first time he experiences the MLS post-season. It may not seem comparable, but could feel just as intense.
"You can play games at a World Cup like we did in 2010; the third game of the group against Algeria, where you feel like four years of work is going to play out in 90 minutes," former Roma midfielder Michael Bradley said before Toronto FC's knockout round match against the Philadelphia Union.
"You can play an Italian Cup final, Roma versus Lazio in Stadio Olimpico, where honestly I have never felt that much tension in a stadium before in my entire life. You can play a playoff game in Montreal for a club that’s never been in the playoffs and feel the weight of the club’s history. You learn from all these experiences and games. Some go well, others less so, but they are why you play - to have the opportunity to play in big moments when people are watching that would give anything to be in your spot. That’s what it is all about.”
Pirlo can seize the biggest opportunity he has had since making the move to North America. The fact that he'll be able to do it against a friend and former teammate will make the occasion even more magical.
But even with all that is on the line for Pirlo and NYCFC over the next two games, Giovinco and Toronto FC have far more to prove.
TFC are a club in their 10th year of existence, and didn't host a playoff match until this year. Next Sunday in the second leg, New York City will accomplish the feat in just their second year of existence. There are no supporters who have suffered more in MLS than Toronto`s.
Unlike Pirlo, Giovinco has never played in any of the aforementioned finals. He has never experienced winning with the Azzurri or played a major role in a Scudetto winning side. He isn't at the twilight of an accomplished career looking for one last adventure or trophy to claim.
Rather, he is in his prime and still trying to justify to many why the move across the Atlantic wasn`t just about money. He is desperate to win the league`s most prestigious prize, with the coveted number 10 on his back and as the catalyst behind the journey.
Indeed, the MLS playoff clash features two players who likely never envisioned that their careers would take them to Toronto or New York. But now they both find themselves with the chance to write the most significant chapter in their respective clubs' history books.
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