2010 in Retrospect- Punches, Cheques, Dashes & Dollars
This past year following and supporting Toronto FC has been many things. One thing it has not been is boring. There were a lot of interesting stories and events looking back on the year as a whole and in this post I will take a brief look at what I thought were the top ten events that shaped the club this year and perhaps will influence the long term outcomes for the club going forward into 2011 and beyond.
Before I do that there were a few specific events that I thought summed up in their own way what it was to support this club through trying times. Sometimes relatively small things can be either quite symbolic or representative of what it actually happening in the bigger scheme of things.
Jon Conway Lowers The Boom!
Getting sent off against Columbus in November for flooring highly disliked Crew Forward Steven Lenhart was a rare highlight for me in the later part of the season when TFC was simply playing out the string. One of the images I will remember most from 2010 is Conway heading through the tunnel to the dressing room after getting his red card and raising his fist into the air and getting a huge ovation from the stands in reply. In many ways this little event showed that there is still a lot of love for this team in the stands when it plays the game in the “Canadian” way, with heart and passion. Thank you Jon Conway for giving fans a nice moment in what were some dark days!
“Cut Me A Cheque!”
Captain Dwayne De Rosario’s now infamous cheque writing display in a late season 3-2 loss at home to San Jose Earthquakes after he scored a goal in a game that just about sealed TFC’s MLS playoff fate was another image that will stay with me for a while.
Whether DeRo was promised a renegotiation by the previous regime, or for that matter whether he deserves a raise is besides the point. For me, and for a lot of fans, the captain of your club in a must win game, that you eventually lose, making such a selfish statement is almost representative of what a lot of murmurs/whispers about this club since day one have spoken to, namely there has been a distinct lack of character in this team’s dressing room since the birth of TFC back in 2006.
Dan Gargan’s “Mad Dash”
Earlier this season I remarked in my first video blog after TFC’s first game (an away loss in Columbus) how sadly representative it was of the way Mo Johnston ran the team (or ran it into the ground) was an incident I subsequently called Dan Gargan’s “Mad Dash”.
Picture the scene. TFC was for the third year running starting the MLS season without a full complement of players under contract. In fact on that March day in Ohio TFC did not even have enough players under contract to have a full bench. Earlier that Saturday morning Dan Gargan came to terms with the club. He by all accounts dashed to Pearson airport, got a flight to Columbus and he arrived to sit on the end of the bench an hour before kickoff. I remember thinking that day why oh why TFC did not can the Ginger Glaswegian after losing out in New York in 2009 rather than keeping him for one more year of likely futility and bad decisions. Signing players on the day of the league kickoff struck me as not the way I wanted TFC to ever be run again.
Sam Cronin Traded For $$$
On Tuesday of this week US Men’s National Team coach Bob Bradley announced the roster for their January training camp. Two names on the list jumped out at me. Former Red and MLS Cup winner Marvell Wynne is on the list and so is former TFC player Sam Cronin, who if you remember was dealt by Johnston to San Jose for allocation money (MLS parlance for space to sign players over and above the salary cap).
It became clear under head coach Preki that Sammy was not going to be part of the plan here in Toronto as long as Preki was in charge. And Mo, who was notoriously poor in managing the salary cap, needed additional funds to find a way to fit high priced designated player Mista onto the roster.
So again a good prospect, who in particular in 2009 showed character and leadership for such a young man was dealt away for next to nothing. San Jose, for allocation dollars that will expire, have gotten themselves a good MLS player that will be with them for many years. Thanks again Preki!
There of course were many other moments that perhaps could be considered bigger then these four anecdotes. But I think in a lot of ways they were representative in a lot of ways of what we as fans experienced in 2010. And here are what I think are the ten biggest TFC moments of 2010 that shaped the outcome of the season and set the stage for what will be coming in 2011 and maybe for years beyond.
1- Preki and Mo Fired
Mo’s ouster came eleven months too late for many people and I find it hard to fault that logic. As a well known Mo “critic” I distinctly remember getting about twenty texts and emails that day from friends wondering what I thought and I remember answering with a lot of keyboard smiley faces and “whoo-hoo’s” in reply. Preki’s ouster was on that day a bit of a surprise, but less so in the weeks and now months since in retrospect. The upcoming hirings to replace these two are arguably the most important decisions Toronto FC has had to make since the club started in 2006.
2 – Julius James and the Boo Birds
I remember vividly standing in section 113 watching TFC lose to the worst club in MLS at the time (DC United) and to add insult to injury the goal scored against was by former Toronto cast off Julius James. This game all but mathematically meant that TFC was out of the MLS playoff hunt once again. And listening to supporters in their hundreds lustily boo the effort on the field from the players came as somewhat of a shock to me and to many others. Many that booed that day were supporters that made tifos, went on road trips and spend a large part of their lives supporting the club through thick and thin and would never ever think of ever booing their club before. That day the honeymoon that was four years of Toronto FC officially ended for many fans. And three days later Mo was fired.
3 – The Town Halls
I was lucky enough to get to attend three separate Toronto FC Town Halls that came at the end of the season called by the club in response to unprecedented fan anger over issues both on and off the field. Listening to Tom Anselmi in particular over those three sessions where he not only acknowledged errors, but changed his tone and demeanor in response to what must have been a surprising response to him was an eye opener. Watching him get more apologetic and less strident session by session spoke to me that the club finally had a grasp on the scale of the problems they face and the importance in responding to fan anger directly, which to their credit they did to a degree. Committing to continuing the Town Hall process going forward was another positive outcome.
4- Season Ticket Revolt/Freeze
The previously mentioned town halls were primarily taken up by dozens of fans venting frustration and anger over four years of price increases for a product that many felt was significantly substandard and the club struggling in reply in trying to justify price increases four years running. And the “great ticket revolt of 2010” led to MLSE taking what was almost for them an unprecedented move on their part, namely committing to a price freeze for the next two seasons and throwing next season’s home opener in for free to those that renewed. Subsequently the season ticket allocations for 2011 have been reportedly sold out again so the response to the fan anger from the club likely did have the desired effect. From a supporters perspective this successful bit of fan activism and the team acknowledging/responding directly to it speaks well to the future relationship between supporters and the front office. It is not perfect by any means and issues still persist but my MLS standards it is quite good.
5 – Bravery against the Mexican Giants Cruz Azul
After qualifying for the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League by finishing off CD Motagua of Honduras, Toronto got what was arguably the worst possible group stage draw when they were paired with, among others, Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul. And in surprise of surprises TFC beat Cruz Azul 2-1 at home with arguably the best overall performance in the history of the club on the pitch against the best club TFC has ever played a competitive game against. On top of that an understrength Red side subsequently goes to Mexico City on two days rest and ekes out a nil-nil draw in what was perhaps the best defensive performance the club has ever put in for ninety minutes again against far superior opposition. These two games to me showed many more casual TFC fans than myself what Champions League soccer can mean and what makes it truly different and sometimes more special than league play.
6 – Preki Send A Gift To The “Panamanian Arabs”
From one highlight to a low light in Panama when Toronto FC was subjected to all that is bad in CONCACAF soccer when they “lost” to Panamanian minnows Arabe Unido in the Champions League. Starting a very understrength side with an eye on still trying to make the MLS playoffs, Preki’s plans were de-railed by a chintzy goal from the Panama side early on and an absolutely disgraceful display of cheating/gamesmanship from Arabe Unido and obviously biased officials from El Salvador. Yes it would never be easy in those circumstances to win, even against weaker opposition, but that game with a stronger TFC side on the carpet was still winnable and that loss made qualification to the knockout stages of the tournament no longer in TFC’s own control. This was arguably the single biggest coaching error of 2010.
7 – Mista…The King Of All Busts
For the first time in the history of Major League Soccer’s “Designated Player” rule, a club signed a player under this provision and then did not promote the player as being signed as such to the media. I remember calling TFC Press Office weeks after the signing and only then after much prodding getting a glum acknowledgment that he was indeed on a DP wage. Having to deal Sam Cronin for additional allocation cash in order to sign Spaniard La Liga veteran Mista, who in my eyes was the greatest TFC bust ever, only made this signing even worse. One goal against Cruz Azul for almost two million dollars and then watching him sulk and be scratched for mysterious “injuries” again & again spoke to poor scouting and man management on the parts of both Mo Johnston and Preki. This guy in retrospect made previous high priced busts Pablo Vitti and Laurent Robert look good in comparison.
8 – Taking Care of Business In The Voyageurs Cup
The 2010 edition of the Voyageurs Cup was a much easier tournament from TFC’s perspective than the 2009 edition was which required a six goal “miracle” away in Montreal to secure the Cup. In 2010 TFC went undefeated and easily secured the right to move on to Champions League play. Vancouver also went undefeated, but four draws in four games were not enough to match TFC’s two wins and two draws. Although somewhat anticlimactic with the trophy secured with a game remaining, watching my boys lift a trophy on home soil was a special evening, even if it was raining cats and dogs.
9 – Jürgen Klinsmann Comes To Town
Whether the “…Coach by Christmas…” remark in an interview a couple of weeks ago was a throwaway line on Jürgen Klinsmann’s part remains to be seen. But without a doubt Toronto FC securing the services of Herr Klinsmann and his consultancy firm Soccer Solutions was definitely one of the bigger developments of 2010. We all know his pedigree and there has never been an individual ever associated with this club with near to his success as a player, a coach or a builder. To date the public results have been a press conference and a couple of interviews. Perhaps that is unfair, and maybe a bit glib on my part, but with due respect to him the off season will be over before we know what the Klinsmann era will bring… and there are not only fourteen players yet in need to be signed, but we still need the Coach/GM hirings to take place soon. Off the field it is indeed likely that Klinsmann being involved with TFC did have a positive outcome for the 2011 season ticket renewal campaign considering that they have sold out for 2011 once again. Whatever the outcome of his involvement will be, having him involved has certainly brought a level of respect to the club in soccer circles that perhaps was never there under Mo Johnston.
10 – Cochrane Clears The Decks
Mista, Hscanovics, Usanov, White, Saric, Gala, Ibrahim, Sanyang, Nane and fan whipping boy Nick Garcia have all been jettisoned by Toronto FC in recent weeks by Interim General Manager Earl Cochrane. With these ten players leaving and with older contracts coming off the books (Robinson, Gerba, etc.) Cochrane has left either himself or whomever is appointed GM almost $1,8 million in cap space available to try and build a contending club next season. We also will have a generous helping of “we suck” allocation dollars from the league next year because the club missed the playoffs. So there could well be over $2 million to spend on rebuilding the squad. Yes many of these moves were perhaps logical or even inevitable no matter who was or who was not in charge for TFC. But it remains an accomplishment nonetheless. As each day passes the stamp of failure that Mo Johnston placed on this club will hopefully fade into the realm of bad memories. Getting out from under ten bad contracts of less than stellar players was definitely a start in the right direction.
What do you think?
Please feel free to comment below.