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.)
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.
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In Canadian soccer, aren’t these the best and silliest of times?
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!
THESE ARE FOR CSN EYES ONLY.
DO NOT republish anywhere. Outside of the CSA exec and Umbro people we are the first to see them.
I am working on a deal with Umbro right now, so if these were to leak you would effectively kill it. Please, please don't repeat what you've seen.