A Year Too Late
To steal a line from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
October 24th 2009, A date which will live in Toronto FC infamy. In the damp swamps of Northern New Jersey TFC was suddenly and deliberately defeated by the substandard club known as the New York Red Bulls.
A bit melodramatic I suppose comparing the way Toronto FC ended its 2009 season, losing hopes for the playoffs on the last night of the season in an embarrassing 5-0 loss to New York to a surprise attack that brought my American friends into World War II. But as I watched that game in the pub with my friends that night I truly felt anger for the first time at the club I had embraced and grown to love. Why oh why I kept saying to myself (and to everyone within earshot) did TFC keep Mo Johnston around for so bloody long? For that matter why was he not being paraded out in front of the cameras and fired right there on the post game show? I felt like he had committed a crime. Where was my Bernie Madoff-esque perp walk?
A few days later in an interview with Gerry Dobson of Rogers Sportsnet, Mo emerged from his bunker long enough to respond to fan anger and disappointment by stating that if TFC did not make the playoffs in 2010 he would expect to get the chop. And with that pronouncement the fate of the club was sealed for yet another season, and my dreams of a certain Scotsman in an orange jumpsuit were dashed.
TFC stayed in the MLS playoff hunt for a while last season, as we all know, until the wheels fell off late in the summer. The mistakes Johnston made caught up with him and in September the club finally put the Mo/Preki regime out to pasture.
A year too late.
I admit I have talked Mo to death in this space and I wish I did not feel the need to even mention him today. Yet after watching the developments around training camp leading up to First kick in two weeks time I can’t help feeling that his infamy still is impacting this team long after his ouster.
Case in point. Useful pieces like Chad Barrett have left town via trade because he was on a crazy contract given to him by Mo, not because he was unworthy of keeping based on talent and ability to contribute. The roots of the still unresolved DeRo saga allegedly trace back to “promises” broken by Johnston. This situation hangs over the club to this day, with no resolution to date. Others like Adrian Cann feel screwed by the previous regime’s dealings and are holding out for a better deal. There is a revolving door on the TFC dressing room… it has been there for five years!
Once again Toronto FC is heading into their new season with more questions than answers. Same as it always has. But this season is very very different. You see TFC is no longer an expansion club. There is four, going on five, years of history to look back upon and the shine is very much off the rose for a lot of supporters.
There has to be progress this season.
As it stands today I think it is fair to say that TFC, even with two additional playoff berths available in the revamped MLS 2011 playoff format, is going to find things very tough to get into the post season. If there were ten slots available last year instead of the eight there actually were the Reds would not have made into the post season then either. Even holding onto the Voyageurs Cup and perhaps qualifying for Champions League play is going to be tougher this season with Canadian counterparts Vancouver Whitecaps now in MLS and playing at a higher competitive level.
Aron Winter is building the team he wants to build and the club will give him the time to remake the club in the way he feels will be the path to success. We all wish him success. What I fear is that the wasted season of 2010, wasted by not getting rid of Mo in 2009 and putting off the process of correcting his grievous errors by over a year may be too late for many fans. If this process was started in 2010 rather than 2011 the vast majority of supporters would have given the club the benefit of the doubt and shown patience with the process of rebuilding the team and correcting the mistakes of Mo. The inevitable losses and mistakes would have been more easily forgiven with visions of a payoff down the road. No playoff soccer would have been expected, and even accepted as an outcome, if there were signs that the tide was turning.
Instead what we ended up with was a year of pain with the inevitable rebuild we all knew was needed delayed by a season. This outcome only ended up making things worse. Pain is much easier for some to accept if they truly believe that there is a payoff over the long term. That didn’t happen in 2010. And the club is likely going to go to great lengths this year to convince us that there is a long term vision in place no matter the results on the pitch turn out to be.
My fear going into yet another season of uncertainty is that at the end of the upcoming campaign if there are no playoffs for TFC the opportunity that the team has had in its lap to truly establish itself as a long term sustainable success in the Toronto marketplace might be missed. On a lot of home dates last season the announced attendance never came close to the reality in the stands. I live in fear of home dates this season having swathes and patches of empty seats while the team plays in a market that is indifferent to what is happening with them.
If only Mo would have had his perp walk in 2009.