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    World red card record

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    And then, out of nowhere, an utterly unknown soccer player hauls off and sets a world record.
    The Daily Mail reports this morning that Chippenham Town striker David Pratt, 21, was thrown out of yesterday’s British Gas Premier Division match against Bashley for a lunging tackle just three seconds past the opening kickoff.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Seems the old world record was 10 seconds (set in Italy), while the British mark of 13 had been held by goaltender Kevin Pressman, a souvenir of his time with Sheffield Wednesday.
    Pratt was clearly on edge, and no wonder! Playing against a team called Bashley? The very name puts you on your guard. Go across Canada and you won’t find a team with a name as blunt and physically intrusive as Bashley.
    (Hamilton Lady Avalanche? I digress.)
    Pratt must have thought Bashley was going to take a bash at him, so he took an unabashed bash at Bashley.
    He’s famous now, and it’s not like it took that long to pull it off. When dawn dawned yesterday, the chance that one particular player from the seventh division of English football would be having jokes made about in him a Canadian soccer blog were about as close to absolute zero as I’d ever care to journey. And yet, here we are! Immortality is a truly strange animal.
    And it’s not going to be an easy record to break. You’ve got to line up your opponent, make contact AND have the whistle go – all in under three seconds. Even a physical attack on the referee is unlikely to seal the deal. It will likely take the startled official several seconds to recover and regroup enough to actually make the call.
    That leaves only one option: an intense, high-volume run of verbal obscenities, aimed directly at the ref, which can be heard, processed and punished inside of David Pratt’s world-record time.
    It’s going to take real commitment, but the option is open to any player in any FIFA-sanctioned match, anywhere on the planet. Maybe it won’t be a high-water mark of human achievement – like the biggest bee beard or most Jell-o consumed on a solstice – but you’ve got to have a dream, right?
    Oh, and Steven Gerrard got arrested. Facts – and police reaction time – not yet available.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Nuke-castle United

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    In a breezy chat with Roger Lajoie on FAN590 yesterday, I happened to mention I was intrigued by today’s Newcastle-Liverpool match.
    On the one hand, Liverpool have been at or near the top of the English Premier League all season, showing soaring creativity at points, and coming up with enough effective straight graft to win when the inspiration flags. The nagging question – to everyone except their fans: do the Reds really belong at this altitude?
    And, in the other corner, a Newcastle side whose footballing future is so vague and fuzzy, it’s as though their famous black and white stripes have melted into various shades of blotchy, shapeless gray. They pancaked coming off the runway, but have been better in recent times. Do they really belong at their present altitude?
    The final verdict from St. James’s Park – Newcastle 1, Liverpool 5.
    Crunching, comprehensive misery, on the morning that locally hated ‘Toon owner Mike Ashley announces he is not getting his price, and no longer intends to sell the team.
    Seen by Newcastle fans as a clueless, classless cockney, Ashley comprehensively lost the supporters when he was filmed chugging pints while his team was battered blind and sideways at Arsenal. Then manager Kevin Keegan quit, then the fans went into public revolt, then Ashley said he was getting out – as long as anyone met his exorbitant 481-million-pound price.
    It’s a long, bad day to be a Newcastle United fan.
    Two words, children: Ebbsfleet United.
    How does the 13th-place team in the English fifth division enter into a holiday-season discussion of the megabucks world of the EPL? Can you hear a young John Lennon singing “You say you want a revolution?”
    Ebbsfleet are that cute little team that got taken over by its fans. Through an ongoing Internet effort, each and any of us can be co-owners of Ebbsfleet by nightfall. Last spring, they were off to Wembley, where they packed in 25,000 supporters (!!) and saw off Torquay United 1-0 to pocket the coveted non-league FA Trophy. And they’re not all that far away from promotion to the League, if they can hold course and continue their improvement.
    So – what if Newcastle United fans put their money where their mutiny is?
    A quarter-billion quid (which apparently breaks Ashley even), divided 100,000 ways, is 2500 pounds sterling per fan. Yes, it’s a huge ask. But there are wealthy ‘Toon fans out there who could contribute much more, and if you made it a global on-line effort, there must be hundreds of thousands of frustrated Magpie loons who might admire to pony up some dough.
    It’s not like the team is an automatic money loser. TV deals alone guarantee huge revenue streams for anyone lucky enough to own an EPL team.
    There have been mild rumblings about this on the ‘net, but I’d wager takeover talk is up to a rolling boil in the pubs of Tyneside tonight. And today’s collective clattering at the feet of top-club Liverpool won’t ease the pressure in the slightest. Owner Ashley could not have picked a less-favourable day to tell fevered, seething fans who hate him that he isn’t going anywhere.
    On the field, by the way, this team can be a lot of fun. Goalkeeper Shay Given was brilliant in the early going today, but had no chance later as Liverpool continually overwhelmed his soggy, sagging defence. Newcastle’s goal, on the stroke of halftime, was headed home deftly by Canadian youngster David Edgar.
    As of today, Newcastle United fans are in a state of open warfare with an owner they utterly loathe. There will be lessons for all of us in whatever they decide to do … next.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Soccer Santa’s coming to town

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    ‘Tis an annual tradition! My yearly list of Christmas wishes for the truly deserving in the wide and wonderful world of the beautiful game.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Without further ado: (And without further adieu, because I’m not going anywhere.)
    Toronto FC: If we must have a designated player, let it be one with spring in his step and lots of gas in the tank. Don’t settle for a washed-up name, Mo. Astonish us with someone a bit off the radar, with huge talent and a genuine desire to start a new life in an amazing city, cheered on by the most proud, pulsing and passionate fans for two thousand miles in any direction.
    Dwayne DeRosario: A contract he can live with, and several happy years as the midfield maestro for Toronto FC. A healthy shot of midfield creativity is exactly what TFC needs right now, and the fans are pumped up to lunacy about DeRo’s long-awaited arrival. I’m sure contract talks are a major reason for the extended silence that has enveloped the DeRo story ever since the trade was made. Let’s get that contract done, and get this new season under way!
    Vancouver Whitecaps: An MLS expansion franchise. If anyone out there actually has that $40-million (U.S.) the league is demanding, it’s these guys. The stadium problem will be solved eventually, and a step up to the big league would be a huge help to getting that blessed deal done. Keep the Canadian dream alive, guys!
    Montreal Impact: Just enough of an economic downturn to buckle one and only one MLS franchise. Impact owner Joey Saputo took a huge risk deciding that an expansion team simply isn’t worth the price the league is demanding. But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t provide a wonderful new home to a struggling franchise going down in its present domain. Sure, it’s a long shot. But I’m a person who’s just about never done anything the conventional way, and I want to see Montreal pull this off. Soon.
    Major League Soccer: Peaceful, productive negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement with the players. With all this expansion money coming in, that salary cap has to be raised. The darn thing pulled so low over everyone’s eyes right now it’s almost impossible to tell one MLS team from another. We also need that split salary cap thing, where each team can inject a few extra millions of its own money. That will give us bad-guy teams, and we urgently need them. Right now, the only teams Toronto fans are actively anticipating – Montreal and Vancouver – aren’t even in the freaking league!
    Canada: Hope. Of any sort. From anywhere.
    Canada’s youth soccer clubs: Leadership from within. It’s not coming from Ottawa, people. If we’re all figuring out at once that we desperately need strong amateur soccer leagues to grow the game in Canada, let’s take a few days to celebrate the season, and then get on the phones. Call the clubs around you. Hire one top-level coach per club, and form a local league. If we do that all over Canada, the CSA will have to accept the changes, alter their structure and hire the right person to run and oversee it all. It really is all up to you guys now.
    The Canadian Soccer Association: The courage to gather together at Metcalfe Street, raise a toast, honestly admit it isn’t working, and just walk away. We’ll all work together to fill the gap, guys. For all your efforts at reform, you remain in the way – and too many good people are wasting too much time and money tripping over you. Wouldn’t all of us – your own good selves included – be a whole lot happier if all of this were over?
    The English Premier League: A new team in the top four. Villa? Everton? City? It doesn’t matter who. Just knock one of the Big Four out of the UEFA Champions League, and let them all know there’s no more free passage to the UCL vault. The game needs this, and maybe we can actually find a practical use for this global economic downturn – if it stops Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal from just buying any player they suddenly need. Hey, the big clubs are a blast to watch. But honest effort from the outside has to count, too.
    David Beckham: An unconditional release from the Los Angeles Galaxy. I don’t know if the Milan thing is going to work out, but the L.A. novelty is gone, and there’s nothing at all left of the team. Becks-Donovan should have worked, but until MLS cranks its salary cap and the rest of the roster doesn’t have to share hot plates in college dorm rooms, there just isn’t any blessed point continuing. Edson Buddle will always thank you for setting up his 15-goal season, Becks, but it’s time you moved back into your proper rent district.
    FIFA president Sepp Blatter: Criminal charges. Hey, I long ago gave up believing I’ll ever see soccer’s biggest bureaucrat in jail. But how about just enough heat to get him out of office? I promise not to write more than about one gloating blog item a week – and I’ll even agree to a “Bye Bye Blatter” cap of 50,000 words. I just can’t give anymore than that. Come on, Interpol! It’s not like the guy’s hiding.
    TFC fans: A personal gift of my thanks for all your passion, friendship and support. I was scared sideways when the Globe ended my blog. But not two hours went by before one fan stepped up to design my new site, another offered to oversee my advertising strategy, and others started actually introducing me to name sponsors. I still don’t know how all this is going to play out, but you guys have been utterly incredible, and I feel a great joy and welcome responsibility to know so many of you are coming to Onward! daily for a quick shot of my own distinctive brand of soccer fun. You guys are the best – and a very Merry Christmas to you all!
    I’m taking a few days off, and then let’s all rev it up for the New Year.
    Onward!

    Guest

    On this day …

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    A snapshot of the human/footballing/Torontonian condition on this day on the planet:
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    1) David Beckham watched his first match at the San Siro as an on-loan member of AC Milan, wearing a red-and-black scarf and generally grinning as his new mates buried four first-half goals and cruised to an easy 5-1 win over usually tough and peskier Udinese.
    2) Arsenal, who can’t beat hardly anyone from the lower four-fifths of the English Premier League table, remained unbeaten against fellow Big Four opposition, drawing Liverpool 1-1 despite a red card to Emmanuel Adebayor.
    3) Manchester United, also down to ten men, rode a Wayne Rooney strike to a 1-0 success over Liga di Quito of Ecuador in the GlobalMegaHype final of the Waste-of-jet-fuel-but-it’d-be-SO-COOL-if-a-Canadian-club-ever-got-here-go-you-Montreal-Impact! Cup. Well done, apparently.
    4) Here at home, sheets upon sheets of snow once again tucked in Toronto on the shortest day of the year, as a couple of gun-toting clowns fired two bullets into a bus in Little Italy. They are being described by pursuing police as “armed and dangerous.” Ya think?
    Soccer, in other words, orbits on, and the centre of my universe seems a long way from happy green fields today.
    But ‘tis solstice, and that means 182 consecutive days of longer, starting … tomorrow.
    Yes, there’s winter to get through, but new year, new hope, new soccer season – all will be with us very soon.
    And I’ve noticed a subtle change in my city – the home of a last-place club in a strange and off-the-main-track soccer league. Suddenly, increasingly, winter has become the off-season.
    At a time when almost the entire rest of the soccer universe is thundering down the backstretch, with flared nostrils picking up the first and tiniest scents of the clubhouse turn ahead, we here in TFC land … are watching games from Europe and don’t mean as much as they used to. Brilliant diversion and entertainment, certainly, but not … dare I even dream to elevate one modest provincial expansion team to this altitude?
    … Our team.
    Beckham, United and the Big Four can dance all they want on the main stage. Toronto FC fans are settling into winter – heads lolling with dreams of our shining little side-stage of a stadium, and another season yet to come.
    That’s every bit as new and strange around here as bullets through a bus.
    May it last an awful lot longer.
    Onward!

    Guest

    DP, or not DP?

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Reasonably reliable word has filtered through to the Onward! offices that Toronto FC will announce the identity of its 2009 Designated Player on or about January 6.
    This is the man who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the newly-signed Dwayne DeRosario, in the quest to lift Toronto FC into eventual contention in the wide-open world of Major League Soccer.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Whispers abound the DP will be a Canadian – but not Deportivo La Coruna’s Julian DeGuzman. Does this mean Tomasz Radzinski? Can’t say either way, but Ali Gerba’s not DP material, so let’s call Radzinski an officially unofficial rumour.
    The deeper question, of course, is whether the DP is a good deal? As presently constructed, TFC can pay this guy the moon and the stars, but the first $400,000 (all figures U.S.) still counts against the already-tight MLS salary cap of $2.3 million. Yeah, there are odd little allocation rules that can fudge that a bit, but not much.
    This raises the very real probability that, as the DP comes in, at least one name TFC player will be heading out.
    Even with Carl Robinson’s selfless and generous acceptance of a pay-cut, Robbo, DeRosario and the DP will gobble up the first million all by themselves. That leaves $1.3 mil for the remaining 17 spots on the roster.
    Suddenly, the $185,000 Honduran international midfielder Amado Guevara pocketed in 2008 looks a lot like an unaffordable luxury. There’s already concern about he and DeRo would carve up the attacking midfield role. It’s not like DeRo can’t scream home a free kick.
    Striker Chad Barrett has already been locked up for the next few years – which must include a raise from the $61,000 he earned this past season.
    With Barrett’s cut on the rise, how are we all feeling about Rohan Ricketts’ $200,000-plus? Everyone loves this guy personally, and he scored a couple of ripper goals. But I still feel far too many searching balls found their way to Ricketts’ feet – and were never seen or heard from again. With that much money on the line, is he really worth it?
    And yes, Danny Dichio also took a pay cut. But will he play enough to be worth the cap hit?
    With any luck, in another year, MLS will have raised the cap nicely, and we won’t still be in this mess. Until then, though, this remains a league where four or five guys on each team get paid, and the rest struggle by on as little as $12,900 (U.S.).
    Two questions to debate, then:
    1) Is signing a DP worth the money it sucks out of the rest of the TFC roster?
    2) If someone’s got to go, who should it be?
    As long as we’re all heavily snowed in, let’s fire ourselves up a blazing comments section.
    Onward!

    Guest

    I left my heart … in Garforth?

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    When you’re an ambitious little club on the outskirts of the footballing world, you have to do whatever you can when it comes to getting noticed, and moving up.
    Here is a Sky Sports story – repeated verbatim – from the “Non-League News” section of ESPNsoccernet.com:
    Former Brazil defender Cafu has been lined up to play a run of matches for non-league Garforth Town next year.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    West Yorkshire side Garforth have played down reports Cafu, 38, will sign for them in January, however they expect the World Cup winner to join before the end of the season.
    Cafu left Italian giants AC Milan during the summer, and Garforth owner Simon Clifford, who runs the Brazilian Soccer Schools coaching organization, has persuaded him to play in England before retiring.
    Clifford told Sky Sports News: “He’s still only 38 and he was playing for AC Milan last year.
    “He’s likely to be coming in April and just playing a few games for us, and it’s an absolute honour to have someone like him lining up in our shirt, and I think he’ll also add something on the field.”
    Cafu’s fellow Brazilians Socrates and Careca have also appeared for the Unibond Northern League team in recent seasons.
    Let’s all bear that in mind, the next time someone in authority tells us name players don’t want to come to Toronto FC.
    Onward!

    Guest

    A great chance ... at a silly cup

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    So what do you do when the thing you really love leads directly and ultimately to a hollow farce that is pretty much a waste of everybody’s time?
    Yeah. All us 40-something divorcees and singles all just had the same thought at the same time, didn’t we?
    Ah, but it is not affairs of the heart I wish to speak of this morning. Rather, it is Mexican soccer side Pachuca, and their 0-2 loss to Liga de Quito of Ecuador, last night in Tokyo in the semifinal of the Club World Cup.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    On the one hand:
    This is one of the silliest and least-needed soccer competitions on the planet.
    On the other hand:
    This is the reason why there is a CONCACAF Champions League. By extension, it’s the ultimate goal of our beloved Voyageurs Cup Canadian championship tournament.
    Up until now, I’ve had plenty of fun ripping and writing off the Club World Cup – and it has never done anything whatsoever to defend itself.
    It all began simply enough. Once a year, just as winter was getting all grabby with the northern temperate zones, the UEFA Champions League winner and South American Copa Libertadores champs got whisked off to Japan to play one game for presumed global glory – fattening a lot of bank accounts and really not proving much of anything.
    A single jet-lagged exhibition game equals a legitimate world championship? No.
    And then FIFA president Sepp Blatter – inexplicably – agreed. Blatter was at the height of his global campaign to reduce the number of soccer games. He was threatening Europe’s top soccer nations with expulsion from the World Cup if they didn’t cut the number of teams in their top leagues. Wisely, the Europeans ignored him. Absolutely nothing happened.
    But somewhere in a jangled layover in Manila or Tegucigalpa of Brazzaville, Blatter got to feeling the Club World Cup didn’t actually include the world. So he got his strong-arm squad to frog-march the club champions of CONCACAF, Asia, Oceania and Africa off to Japan as well. They play off against each other, and the winners get fed to the Europeans and South Americans, who prevail and face each other in the final – as always.
    There’s no way anyone can win here! Even if there were an upset, would anyone really believe that the last surviving club in Africa or Guatemala is actually better than Manchester United?
    And then … the Canada thing happened.
    CONCACAF remodelled its top club cup on the UEFA Champions League – and Canada was awarded a place on the dance card. Our three (count ‘em, three!) pro soccer clubs hustled into an unsuspecting boardroom, and emerged with a rudimentary – and hugely entertaining – Canadian championship.
    For Toronto FC fans, I think the three most-anticipated matches of 2008 were opening day, and the Voyageurs Cup visits of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact. Certainly the final night – Jeff Cunningham whiffing a 12-foot putt and Montreal escaping with a draw … and the cup – is the biggest on-field blow in TFC history.
    Worked out great for Montreal, though! They blew through the CONCACAF preliminary stages, and are set to stand tall and proud in the quarterfinals in February.
    Understand. MLS, right now, is a league where most teams are equal to the point of anonymity. Fans don’t grab the newly released schedule with sweaty palms, breathlessly wondering when Chivas USA is coming to town. But Vancouver and Montreal? Those are the games the fans are dreaming of as another sagging season of snow settles sluggishly on the great white north.
    Here’s the romance. Here are the rivalries that count. New England, Chicago, DC United – yeah, those matter. But Montreal? Revenge!!!
    Columbus are MLS champions! Nobody up here cares!
    Every fan in all three competing Canadian cities wants to win the Voyaguers Cup. Heck, it’s a trophy designed by fans, donated by fans. If the MLS Cup ever found its way up here, that would be amazing yep howdy you betchum. But for now, our winter soccer dreams are made of humbler stuff.
    But then what? Montreal has certainly proved a gallop in the CONCACAF Champions League can capture the collective imagination. It doesn’t get you into MLS, but that’s a different wheeze for another day.
    Imagine … if the Impact … won the thing! A year from now, in Japan, they would play a single match against a fellow champion from Africa, Asia or Oceania. And if they won – Real Madrid? Boca Juniors? Chelsea? Flamengo?
    And that’s about as far and as good as it gets. Because if they then pulled a galactic upset or two, all you’d ever hear about is jet lag and fixture backlog and second-string lineups and how this “cup” is really just a cash-grab and thanks for coming in, Montreal, but we all know what really happened here, right?
    The Club World Cup is still the same farcical waste of jet fuel it ever was, in other words.
    But – and here’s the Canada fan winning out over the global footy critic – someday it might be OUR farcical waste of jet fuel. And those Voyageurs Cup games certainly break up the monotonous wave of faceless MLS side after faceless MLS side briefly fluttering in the plastic green garden of BMO Field.
    In that sense, I love it – even if I still kind of want it gone.
    Truly strange the turns one’s perceptions can be forced to take.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Hull-acious heart (Take note, TFC)

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Last spring, tiny Hull City tripped up a luckless Bristol City in the playoff final at Wembley, and earned their way into the English Premier League for the very first time.
    This humble squad which, as late as 2003, only barely held their place in the lowest division of the English League, was rewarded with invitations to dance at Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge and The Emirates.
    Unseen, at the bottom of the invites, were the unspoken words “Welcome, I guess, now please prepare to go away.”
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Hull City are not going away.
    They’ve already triumphed at Arsenal – and Newcastle, and Tott’n’m. They also bagged three goals in a losing effort at Manchester United. This past Saturday, they ran up a two-goal lead at Anfield, before a pair of desperately needed Steven Gerrard scoring strikes lifted Liverpool level on the day.
    What I love about this team is not what they do, but rather how they do it. These tireless Tigers attack every ball. All of them. Fifty-fifties, half chances, bad passes – even very good passes. Opponents might win the ball, but a moving, overlapping, tireless, insatiable wall of orange and black will be there to block or burden the way forward.
    This isn’t a 70-minute strategy. Heck, 90’s not going to be enough. The only way this works is if everybody gives their utter all, for 90 plus however much stoppage time the referee might care to allow.
    Hull grabbed the lead early in Liverpool, on a surging header from Paul McShane just 12 minutes in. They doubled it on 22, when a hard low cross from the wing had the good fortune to hit Liverpool’s Jamie Carracher right in the back wheel well just two feet out. Own-goal. Happy Hull.
    As mentioned, Gerrard put paid to all of that with two goals. But the real story, to me, was the second half.
    It looked like Hull had fourteen men on the field. Everywhere the Reds found space, the Tigers closed – continually finding a second defender to rotate to the ball. Names don’t much matter here, because all of them were doing it.
    And when the ball popped loose, Hull were on it. Pressing forward. Hard. Going all out to create, trusting teammates left far behind the ball to figure out the right rotation when the rampant Reds inevitably returned.
    These toothy, low-rent Tigers have been pulling this stunt up and down England since August. There is now more than enough evidence in the books to say this is not a fluke, and these largely anonymous near-Northerners will, indeed, be back next year.
    And there is a huge lesson here – for Toronto FC.
    Dwayne DeRosario is safely in the fold, and that’s a hefty upgrade on the busted-down bus our Fort York Redcoats drove around MLS last season. But most of the rest of the roster are the same guys who really didn’t compete in 2008.
    But as Hull City are showing almost every week, scrap and attitude are the great equalizers in the wonderful sport of soccer. Heck, TFC do their own version of this tactic quite a bit. But the consistent, slam it on, every last minute, no breaks, no breathers, No-Sleep-Till-Columbus effort was far too inconsistent.
    With a defence that still needs rebuilding, the possible imminent departure of swingman Marvell Wynne, as well as the happy arrival of a second creative, forward-pushing middie, the Torontos could indeed rise up strongly and suddenly – if they commit to utterly outworking the opposition every time they see green under their galoshes.
    That’s largely how Greece shocked the world to win it all at Euro ’04. Humble roster, hellacious work ethic. And firebrand bench boss John Carver is exactly the sort of strategist to get them there.
    I want every Hull City game to be compulsory viewing for the entire TFC travelling party. Play like that – anywhere and everywhere – and losses become draws, while draws blossom into … dare we even dream it?
    Wins.
    The example is out there, lads. Are you ready – each and every one of you – to work … that … hard?
    Onward!

    Guest

    DeRo!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    I stood behind the south goal at an empty BMO Field, watching Canada practice a couple of days before that first Jamaica game.
    They were doing this five-on-the-goalie practice drill – Iain Hume and Tomasz Radzinski wide, Ali Gerba in the slot, another guy who might have been Kevin McKenna but it’s gone from my memory just now … and Dwayne DeRosario, roaming the high right-centre, looking so smooth, calm and ready to deal.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    It wasn’t what it sounds like. The Canadian strike force wasn’t just ganging up on a poor, overmatched goalie. They played like they were facing a full complement of international-level defenders. Timed runs, searching passes, give-and-go shuffles – all designed to set up that elusive clear and fatal shot.
    In the games that followed, alas and of course, that shot never came. But the memory of how good Our Guys looked that day – the sheer pleasure of seeing them up-close and unopposed – is staying with me.
    Well, dear folks, the wheel has turned, and it turns out fans in the south end are going to be seeing a whole lot of Dwayne DeRosario up-close. As of late Friday afternoon, struggling defensive prospect Julius James and an untold whack of cash have been dealt south to the Houston Dynamo – and one of the very few true international-calibre Canadians is the newest member of Toronto FC.
    It’s a great fit.
    We’ve all wanted him here all along, of course, but maybe the team needed a couple of years to break itself in before this moment came. All last season – as early hope got buried by four months of desert, which bloomed too little and too late in the final month – the cry for DeRosario rose.
    He became TFC’s hero – hope – future.
    And now … fact.
    A man whose teams have never missed the MLS playoffs. A man with four championship rings, who has scored three goals in MLS Cup finals, two of which directly brought home the prize.
    But also, in fairness, a man who is 30 now, who struggled a bit offensively last season, logging seven goals and just two assists.
    Overall, DeRo will be a hugely positive addition to Toronto FC. Just his attitude alone – and the fact that the ball goes forward when prowls the midfield – will be huge. Famously from Scarborough, Ontario, DeRo will now ply his trade in front of fevered, fervent, frantic hometown fans. That’s got to be a huge lift.
    The whole designated player thing is quite another issue, and I’ll write more about it later.
    I’m actually hoping TFC GM Mo Johnston can make DeRo exceptionally happy on non-DP money, so The Big Cheque is still available for a king-hell god of a goal scorer, who could get very plump and happy with Chad Barrett beside him and both DeRo and Amado Guevara feeding him from the back.
    (Although, of course, there is still that aching vacant mess in the centre of defence. Maybe the DP bucks go there.)
    Today, though, is about celebrating the arrival of the finest Canadian star Toronto FC has ever signed. We’ll sort out the fine print in the days and months – and years! – to come.
    Are ya pumped, Reds fans?
    Onward!

    Guest

    CSA debate: The clubs

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    As I hinted in my opening Onward! item last weekend, I’m hoping this new blog can signal a somewhat more positive approach to the ongoing debate over the Canadian Soccer Association.
    Enough verbal bombs have been lobbed to get everyone’s attention. What we really need now is an on-line staging ground for new and constructive ideas.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    Tonight at nine (eastern time), I’ll be joining Nigel Reed and Bob Iarusci on the panel of FAN590 radio’s The Soccer Show. Our scheduled guest is Neil Brown, president of Oakville Soccer Club and a partner with Deloitte & Touche, authors of a report that recommended a significant CSA overhaul (and was kept under wraps until it appeared last year on the Canadian Soccer Federation’s website).
    This should be a very interesting chat.
    As you probably know, the CSA anchored its recent strategic plan on a $5 fee increase for Canada’s hundreds of thousands of registered soccer players. What you might not know is that the request was just turned down flat by the Ontario Soccer Association, and is struggling to find any support at all in the rest of Canada.
    Brown’s club, Oakville, is gigantic. It’s the biggest soccer club in Canada – quite likely bigger than anything in the United States, as well. When the CSA released its plan, Oakville offered up a thoughtful 19-page response, offering support but stressing clear, specific areas that still urgently need to be addressed.
    It prophetically notes that the club had already set its 2009 operating budgets – and fees – making it very hard to accommodate a significant line item like the CSA’s $5 hike request. How significant? $53,000 for Oakville, alone. Word from inside the OSA is that their budget is set, also, and this was a huge reason for rejecting the CSA request.
    Oakville worries that the CSA plan has far too many goals and objectives. It calls the five-year plan to increase the overall operating budget to $25-million from $13-million “odd,” saying “This should be a means to an end and not the other way around.”
    This matters, because a lot of us out here think the ultimate long-term answer to Canada’s chronic footballing woes lies with the clubs. Why, for example, should they raise all this extra money for the CSA when the organization has been so woefully ineffective and inefficient these past two decades?
    What would happen, for example, if the clubs kept that money for themselves?
    Three bullet points from the Oakville response:
    - “For this amount, we could invest in an additional five development directors to work with our developing players.”
    - “We have seen no articulation of how this money will be spent, and what spending allocations will be.”
    - “We have seen little that addresses the opportunities to streamline the entire administration of the game in this country.”
    This is the debate we really need to have, folks. And with the CSA fee increase foundering in rough seas, there’s an opening and opportunity for new and better plans – right now.
    I hope you’ll listen in, and contribute all your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.
    Onward!

    Guest

    A two-tier MLS salary cap?

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    I want you to check out the bottom half of a brilliant story by Richard Snowden on Soccer365.com.
    The piece begins as a chatty, retrospective interview with former MLS deputy commissioner Ed Gazidis, who has just accepted a new, high-profile gig as CEO of Arsenal.
    But about halfway down, Snowden moves the focus away from Gazidis – and strikes gold.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    “Perhaps instead of having a system in which only one or two players can receive unlimited wages,” Snowden writes, “MLS could create a new system in which owners could invest extra money up to a specified maximum if they wish in order to sign as many players as they want, so long as these players could be accommodated by the available number of roster spots, which will increase to 20 beginning next season.”
    The writer is suggesting a two-tier salary cap for Major League Soccer.
    The first – a soft cap set at or around $3-million U.S., would be funded directly by the league, essentially the all-for-one system currently in place, where players sign with MLS, not with their individual teams.
    The revolution lurks in part two of the plan – a $7-million hard cap, funded directly by each team’s owner – to be spent any blessed way each team sees fit.
    Three months ago, I floated the idea of a two-tier MLS. Ambitious clubs could buy full control of their franchises from the league, and make their own way in the world free of salary caps, as well as all the carefully crafted financial protections that have kept the league alive this long. The idea got ringingly mocked on fan message boards stateside, but I was mostly trying to dream up a way for MLS not to seem so cartoonishly controlled from above.
    Snowden’s ideas are lighting me up.
    We’ve already learned this season – as the writer points out – that a team like the L.A. Galaxy can invest huge money in David Beckham and Landon Donovan, and still finish tied for root-bottom of the league because the rest of the roster are making brown-bag lunches in their shared college dorm rooms, and it’s showing fatally in their performance on the field.
    The league’s vaunted “designated player” is largely a publicity stunt, because teams still have to give a quarter of their cap space to the name star du jour, and it’s almost certainly going to take more than one big name to significantly goose the performance of your basic MLS roster.
    This twin-cap idea has huge potential.
    Okay, you’re saying, isn’t this just another version of the rich-team/poor-team scenario presently being acted out in the rest of the soccer world, which you yourself, Mr. Knight, have long and loudly opposed?
    Yes, with two huge exceptions.
    - Even if MLS quadruples its salary cap – which this proposal effectively does – there are still going to be plenty of star players striding the globe earning more money than entire MLS rosters.
    - MLS has a great equalizer: its playoff system. Yes, the bigger-spending clubs would tend to dominate the regular season. But playoffs in soccer are a coin toss. Any team on any day can score one goal, and any one goal can win a 1-0 soccer match. If a low-spending team nudges into the post season – and it happens all the time in other sports – they can still be taking the MLS Cup for a victory stroll down Main Street once the playoff dust has settled.
    Right now, MLS has parity to the point of parody. I grew up watching the old NASL, and if the Toronto Metros, Metros-Croatia or Blizzard actually beat the mighty New York Cosmos, that meant something.
    Who gets really jazzed about an upset in MLS? It was great when Toronto FC knocked off league-champions Houston in a cold rain early in their inaugural season, but so many of the current squads are so grindingly similar, I don’t think fans really care that much about who next week’s visitors are.
    This would change that. Ideally, two or three teams would emerge, clearly and presently stronger than the competition. And then you’ve really got something. I don’t think there’s ever been a visiting team come into BMO Field that the fans and players were frightened of. The magnificent melodrama that is professional sports needs bad guys – teams so tough/rich/unethical/whatever that defeating them becomes a collective obsession for all concerned.
    MLS, in its present form, will never have that.
    Toronto FC fans hate New York Energy Drink and the Columbus Crew, but it’s not because they are great soccer sides. Full value for your MLS Cup, Columbus, but any edge at Reds-Yellows games comes from something else.
    So – read the article, and let’s discuss. This plan won’t be with us for a while, what with the global worsening economy and all. But I think it’s the best, sanest, simplest and clearest plan for the future of MLS I have yet encountered.
    … And I’d love to see what Toronto FC would do in this situation.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Boosting butts at BMO

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tom Anselmi had a little chat with TSN during last week’s unveiling of Toronto FC’s new kit for the 2009 season.
    And it wasn’t about shoulder stripes and proper collars with the words “All for One” embroidered on the back.
    While not committing to any particular timetable, Anselmi confirmed that expansion of BMO Field is being considered.
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    “If you’re still in a place where you’ve got 20,000 every night and 13,000 on a wait list, obviously it’s something we’re going to have to look at,” he said. “We’re really, really bullish on where this can go. We think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
    Anselmi also talked about installing a grass field at TFC’s waterfront playground … but said it was a “long-term” interest.
    There’s quite a lot to consider here. Let’s start with the turf:
    The vast majority of TFC fans are dying to tear up the hated Field Turf inch by inch, patch by patch, lay a ragged plastic path of shredded green stretching from the beer tent to the CN Tower, then stand back – cheering – as a stiff south wind off Lake Ontario blows it all away forevermore.
    There was much talk last season – particularly from general manager Mo Johnston – that $3-million from Maurice Edu’s Glasgow Rangers transfer fee could pay for the pitch. Maybe they should just play soccer on the actual money. It would probably be easier on the players’ knees and ankles.
    But despite supportive outbursts from Mayor David Miller, the City of Toronto quite correctly believes it is the owner of a year-round athletic facility. Provincial funding was, in fact, contingent on a plastic pitch, and when our stadium is bought entirely by the public purse, this is something we are going to have to endure until both levels of government can be persuaded otherwise.
    (Be my guest. Let me know how I can help.)
    As for stadium expansion:
    Apparently, last year’s 16,000 season ticket holders have served up a 95-per-cent renewal rate. That means just 800 names are getting in from the waiting list, which in turn means building more BMO is, indeed, a viable option.
    I’ve always thought the east grandstand – the single-deck bleacher that catches all the in-game camera angles – was a bit of a flimsy structure. But if competent architects can draw up enough new supporting steel to hold up an upper deck, that would be wonderful. New seats in the north end would also jack up the noise level, actually making the expanded stadium cozier and more intimate than it is now. (And there’s no present shortage of either.)
    But what I really want to see – what is most crucial to BMO Field’s survival as a soccer shrine:
    Enclosed corners.
    Merge the supporters’ section into the main grandstands on either side. Just one curving section here, another there, linking the whole Red Nation together into a single encircling wall of noise. Not only would that be an awe-inspiring backdrop for a new grass pitch, it would also:
    Keep the Toronto Argonauts out forever.
    I’ll be first to admit BMO Field would be a gorgeous place to watch a CFL game. But docking the Boatmen in our happy little pond would either make plastic pitch a permanent problem, or utterly destroy whatever gleaming grass might one day be installed.
    We have seen, all over North America in recent years, that the era of the multi-purpose outdoor sports stadium has come to an end. Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, the unbelievably small and awful Kingdome in Seattle are all gone, replaced by new, separate, gorgeous stadiums for Major League Baseball and the NFL.
    Oh, right. Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.
    BMO Field is a soccer stadium, and must remain a soccer stadium. A huge CFL playing field – and the grinding, gouging cleats of rampaging CFL behemoths – must never be allowed to shred, stretch or diminish it. Whenever you find yourself lobbying for a bigger BMO, don’t forget those two simple, all-important words:
    Enclosed corners.
    That’s the spiel that seals the deal.
    Onward!

    Guest

    The view from the basement

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    So, it was a tough season for Toronto FC fans. No real news or argument there.
    And it wrapped up with an MLS Cup final between TFC’s two most widely and colourfully disliked opponents, the Columbus Crew and New York Energy Drink.
    (Note: It shall be Onward! policy – as it was in my Globe and Sportsnet days – not to use nicknames that are pure product placement. It shall also be policy never to quote the full name of that idiotically monikered MLS club from Salt Lake City.)
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    But with a deadline, a sense of duty, and the happy thought that MLS Cup finals tend to be pretty darn decent soccer games, I nosed the Honda product down to Shoeless Joe’s to take in the festivities with a small yet vocal band of Red Patchers.
    With “Who to cheer for?” an obvious non-starter, attention shifted to “What?” It was decided that the fourth official would be loudly, pounding cheered and chanted every time he appeared or actually did anything. Yellow cards were also a cheering point, as eventually were clumps of turf flying up from the playing field, and unnecessarily conceded corner kicks.
    But with a clean game, excellent turf, alert defenders and TV coverage that routinely missed substitutions, there just didn’t end up being a whole lot to cheer for. … And it ended up being a fine and enjoyable soccer match.
    So I said my goodbyes, drove off into the sunset – and lost my job before I ever had a chance to write about it.
    I knew something had changed. Not the job, but my perception of the odd and oft-times limiting and difficult world of Major League Soccer.
    2008 – year II of TFC – found me grumbling … a lot. I’m both a fan and advocate of salary caps, for example, and MLS actually has one. But the darn thing is pulled down so far, no one can see out from under it! With an entire roster to feed and only $2.5-million to spread around, there are always going to be holes on the roster. TFC had gaping ones – up front AND at the back – and it got hard not to notice that all … the … blessed … time.
    But that lovely little Crew-Popcan final got me wondering – is anyone in Columbus any less happy about the championship?
    And then the blinding truth dawned – I’ve been watching and grumbling about this league from the perspective of a passionate fan whose team finished dead last in the division two years on the trot.
    (Obvious, I know. But obvious ain’t always obvious when it’s avalanching you game after game after game.)
    When you win, the bad reffing and tight roster rules and total lack of financial freedom didn’t actually get you. When you’re New York, and you win your way to the final despite a reeling, wonky, seasick-inducing record of 10-11-9, you can forgive an awful lot of institutional side-static.
    But down here in the basement?
    - Hey, we started an academy! Guess what? We can only sign one player from it – per year!
    - Hey, we sold Maurice Edu to Glasgow Rangers for 5-million smirking George Washingtons! Guess what? We can only spend $500,000 of that on players!
    - Hey, our GM is stockpiling young talent, like any good bad team on the rise! Guess what? MLS (see point above) doesn’t really reward that!
    - Hey, the reffing is horrible! Guess what? It got worse and worse as the season wore on!
    Okay, there was a flip side:
    - Hey, we got young striker Chad Barrett from Chicago in exchange for the rights to a star player we never owned, signed or drafted!
    All of these – and many others – remain oddly and uncomfortably true. For all the tens of millions pouring into league coffers through expansion, the salary cap cannot be increased until the next round of collective bargaining with the players, slated for a year from now.
    What I’m open to – and fair thank-yous to both Columbus and New York for a fine afternoon’s sport – is that none of this muck would have sat so heavily on the north-of-Buffalo soul if the Torontos had actually made the playoffs.
    The seven steps of the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle are: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. For TFC fans, the shock came when we got the team in the first place. There was any amount of denial in year one, followed by anger in year two.
    At this rate, either we make the playoffs and cheer up – or we finally get around to accepting our fate … along about 2013.
    I’m guessing – hoping? – things get better from here.
    Onward!

    Guest

    Welcome!

    By Guest, in Onward Soccer,

    Hi! Glad you made it over.
    Welcome to our new home on the ‘Net.
    In Canadian soccer, aren’t these the best and silliest of times?
    [PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
    It’s wonderful that the Vancouver Whitecaps are champions of USL-1; that the Montreal Impact will soon be out kicking shins in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. And sure, Toronto FC had a grinding, disappointing sophomore season in MLS, but the fan base is solid, passionate and strong, and soccer in Canada’s largest city has never been so consistently colourful – and fun.
    And how silly that the Canadian Soccer Association is tying all our international soccer dreams to a vague, jargon-ridden strategy called “Wellness to World Cup.” I’ve heard lots of people say – with considerable sincerity – that they understand the plan. No one alive has been able to explain it to me.
    Now we wait to see if Ottawa and/or Vancouver will be granted the right to pony up $40-million (U.S.) to claim a place in MLS. Montreal has been excused, because owners Joey Saputo and George Gillett don’t believe the privilege is worth the price tag. I deeply sympathize, and tend to agree.
    And so, with so much poised to happen, I happily offer you a brand new place to read, relax, think, laugh, get annoyed – and talk about it all.
    Hey! I’m a fan, you’re a fan. Let’s have … a conversation.
    This past year, writing the On Soccer blog for the Globe and Mail, I was delighted every day by the wide range of comments you wonderful people concocted. In the past few months, we were actively creating one of the best and most pertinent soccer discussion sites on the web.
    Well, it’s tough times in the major media, and On Soccer is gone.
    Onward Soccer starts here and now.
    I’m pleased to tell you name sponsors are watching this blog, ready to buy ad space if the numbers are intriguing. There’s also a PayPal donations box over on the right-hand side. I promise you I’m neither down nor out, but if you value this kind of soccer writing, that’s a way you can contribute, and really make a difference. (And I thank you all, in advance.)
    In return, I am going to write my tail off -- the who, the how, the why, the what-the-hell? New stories will be going up daily for now – about TFC, Canada, Vancouver, Montreal, (Ottawa), MLS, the EPL, UEFA Champions League and whatever else will fire up a good rack of comments.
    Also – and bear with me here – I want to move beyond anger in the CSA story. Not that the situation isn’t exasperating, but Onward! is going to be a rallying point for new and useful ideas, and practical steps forward.
    We are never going to get a Royal Commission, and the present board is not going to be overthrown any time soon. But there is real pressure on them now, and we – together – can make a major contribution. Pressure causes cracks, and cracks tend to be filled by the best idea out there.
    We out here in the opposition have Metcalfe Street out-numbered, out-financed and out-idea’ed. As long as we keep our ideas out there – growing and getting stronger through everyone’s contributions – the chance to change things is always there.
    So – please – take a moment and register, and start leaving comments. Let’s carry the On Soccer community forward without missing a beat.
    I want this to be a dynamic, thrilling place, where we share our limitless excitement about the beautiful game. And I want each and every one of you to be part of whatever happens next.
    I’m pumped! Let’s go have some fun!
    Onward!

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