We Can Fret About The Playoffs Tomorrow – Today It Is About The Champions League!
July 27th is going to be a big day for Toronto FC. The results of the game this evening will likely go a long way to letting us as fans see what the road ahead is going to look like between now and the start of the MLS playoffs. Honduran outfit CD Motagua is here for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League qualifying round. Toronto of course must beat Motagua over the two legs in order to secure a berth on the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League.
With this in mind there has been a lot of debate about what is more important, the Champions League or success for Toronto FC in the MLS playoffs. And after thinking long and hard about it I am truly not sure how to answer the question. Getting to the MLS playoffs is a harder accomplishment relatively then getting to the Champions League group stages would be. Of that there should not be much debate. Yet winning the Champions League is a considerably harder task then winning the MLS Cup would probably ever be.
They are two different competitions with two completely different paths to success. And finding a way to do well in both competitions is I am sure a priority for both the TFC front office/coaching staff along with the suits at MLSE who wish of course to make additional revenue from additional Champions League and/or MLS playoff dates. Preki has I am sure been told that he needs to do well in both.
I am of the belief that Toronto FC has the ability, based on how the club is currently constituted, to both qualify for the group stages of the Champions league AND make the MLS playoffs. My good friend Duane Rollins over at the 24th Minute (http://www.24thminute.com/) wrote a great piece today about how in his eyes tonight’s game is perhaps the most important game in club history. It is a great read. His thesis is that this match only becomes the most important game in the history of TFC if the Reds do not go on and make the MLS playoffs. He contends that the MLS playoffs, being a lower bar to leap, are at this stage more important, especially with the MLS Cup being played here in the fall. I can’t say I disagree.
However I think the debate about which is more important (CL or MLS) is somewhat premature. To be perfectly candid TFC has not had success in either competition as of yet. Toronto crashed out of the Champions League last summer against the Puerto Rico Islanders and of course the debacle in the Meadowlands at the end of last season meant that for three years running Toronto would not qualify for the MLS playoffs.
If Toronto qualifies for the group stages and goes on to qualify for the knockout rounds the way Montréal Impact did in 2008 (with that memorable game at the Olympic Stadium in front of 50,000 fans) a couple of winter matches at the Rogers Centre would be truly something special and an accomplishment of significance. They could even be as big an event as a home MLS playoff game might be in the greater scheme of things… who knows. A nice run in the Champions League would indeed be something special. If TFC did this hypothetical run on the back of not qualifying for the MLS playoffs then it would be of course looked upon as something less of an accomplishment that it actually would be.
And of course if the opposite is the case (TFC loses to a good Honduran side in CD Motagua) and only makes the MLS playoffs then I think it is fair to say that the majority of fans will not at that stage be too upset at missing out on the Champions League.
But all of this debating the merits of one versus the other is again I think somewhat premature.
Tonight, and of course next Tuesday in Honduras, will let us all see if Toronto FC takes the next step towards building a winning franchise. Other then the (in fairness winnable) Voyageurs Cup competitions, this is the second time that Toronto has the chance to win something meaningful and substantial. Last season they played two pretty awful games against Puerto Rico Islanders and deservedly crashed out of the Champions League. Let us all see if that precedent can be broken with a win tonight.
The MLS playoffs are a ways away. A lot of soccer remains to be played before Toronto knows its fate when it comes to the post season. I will worry about the playoffs a little bit later. Today it is all about kicking some Honduran ass and getting a couple of goals while keeping a clean sheet. Do this TFC and you are well on your way. Today is not about fretting about the MLS playoffs. There will be lots of time to fret later.
Comments always welcome.