Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The odd state of affairs at Toronto FC

It was 2005 and I was still living in Mississauga when I first heard this crazy rumour that Toronto was on the verge of getting a new soccer club in the North American league MLS. As one of many soccer fans the local GTA area we had been starving for some sort of professional form of soccer since the demise of Toronto Lynx. The city had seen a few international friendlies with some quality sides like Brazil and Mexico, however we had no team to call our own.
When Toronto FC was formed the city was ready to embrace a team they knew would be average at best and poor on most days simply due to the fact that we had professional football we could call our own. Many people questioned if the turnout would be there for the team, would anybody give a damn in a hockey crazy market? The home opener proved them wrong, and in the 24th minute of TFC's 4th ever match was the final nail in the hater’s coffin....Or at least that’s what we hoped.
3 years later TFC supporters are starting to ask questions of management as the team has started the 2010 campaign with two very bad losses. The most recent being a 4-1 loss to New England in which the team was outplayed and completely outclasses on the pitch. The loss was preceded a few days earlier with the news of the sudden retirement of club captain and first signing Jim Brennan. At the end of last season TFC fans were treated to the most embarrassing of defeats to the lowly New York Red Bulls 5-0, which TFC needed to win to stay in the playoff picture. At the end of the game Brennan’s leadership in the locker room was questioned and the cracks in the feel good story of TFC’s initial off field success began to show. Brennan took the role of Assistant GM to Mo Johnston or “Trader Mo” as supporters have come to know him due to his many trades to “improve” the on field product. Many in the league have questioned the appointment of Jim Brennan to this position as he has no experience in front office operations of a football club. This is one in a line of seemly bizarre decisions both on and off the field that have left some TFC supporters dumbfounded.
This first was selling Maurice Edu to Rangers of Scotland (Johnston’s former club) for $5,000,000. Edu had just come off being named MLS rookie of the year and was promising to become a star midfielder for the club. Second the lack of signing a proven striker, to his credit Johnston signed Jeff Cunningham but he did not receive regular minutes to prove his worth. He has since gone to FC Dallas and was last year’s leading goal scorer in the league. Third was to play a meaningless friendly last season against Real Madrid in the middle of the season with key games coming up and a depleted roster. I understand the club’s need and right to make a profit especially with such high profile club like Madrid, but with tickets way over priced and a roster hit by injury and loss due to international call ups the club suffered and it alienated some supporters. The last was the unorthodox retirement of club cult hero Danny Dichio near the end of last season. Although Dichio was injured for the majority of last season the whole situation reeked of upper management interference.
I believe TFC supporters have been victims of terrible fan abuse from club management. It actually be more accurate to say that they have been taken advantage of by the profit mongers at MLSE (Maple leaf Sports and Entertainment). If you don’t believe me on my last point speak to a suffering Maple Leafs fan to find out. MLSE management believes it can undercut the product on the field because supporters will come out to BMO field no matter how bad the club is. Currently the club has only 17 healthy bodies to play any given match and is very close to the league salary cap. The club is currently paying large (by MLS standards) to subpar players, Chad Barrett being one of them. If results continue down this path I fear that the goodwill at BMO will wear out with the supporters, one can only survive on the honeymoon phase for so long until results are demanded....
And trust me when I say Head coach Perki, GM Mo Johnston and the entire TFC club are expected to produce a playoff berth this year.

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