Why Toronto FC?

Gilberto, Jermaine Defoe, Michael Bradley…these are top players, world class footballers, what are they doing signing for Toronto FC?

It’s pretty clear to those who look at the signings objectively…money. Toronto FC has had the stars align on them because MLS wants Canadian cash and the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment company is willing to front the capital to build a team if MLS will push them. Canada and the city of Toronto want to be relevant, desperately, and they want the money that comes with success in sport. With the Maple Leafs (despite big money signings) being average at best, the Blue Jays being a Triple A affiliate of (oh, wait, no, they still play in the AL) and the Raptors being, well, the Raptors, the city has turned to its least expensive sport for hopes at buying itself some sports related self esteem (and likely self esteem for the city and country as a whole, I mean, it’s Canada…). But why are the broadcasters and analysts hyping it? Follow the money. For Ray Hudson to pimp it though, is unusual to me, he knows his stuff and he should be scratching his balding head asking why in the world top class European footballers would snub world class football teams for TFC. Let’s face it, the MLS isn’t on the caliber of England’s Premiere League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1 or even Portugal’s Primeira Liga. One could argue that other Europe based leagues like the Austrian Bundesliga or the Dutch Eredivise have been surpassed by MLS in terms of quality of play. So why would really top class footballers who, yes, may not be playing as much for their clubs as they might like, look beyond other teams in the top class European leagues who were clamoring for their quality, to Toronto?

I can hear you, MLS fans, American fans, you’re shaking your heads in frustration because this is "great for MLS" to have such top quality footballers, in their prime, not washed up with bad knees, not too young to be known, but prime stars, making MLS their home. We should be celebrating! Normally I would agree, IF these players were joining the club organically or even with a little wooing from MLS for them to come to the American league but without pushing them towards a specific team. That’s not what happened here. Let’s look at the reality of the situation. What we have here is a bottom of the table club in Toronto FC who has never made the playoffs, as been fraught with turmoil (8 head coaches in 7 years) and whose attendance is taking a dive (a 22% decline in 7 years) and is a perennial middle to bottom of the Eastern Conference team that is being bailed out by MLS. That’s the only way that a rational person could look at this situation. First, let’s look at the history of Toronto FC:

2007 – 9W 13L 8T – 7th place (13 teams)
2008 – 9W 13L 8T – 7th place (14 teams) (Hosted MLS All-Star game)
2009 – 10W 11L 9T – 5th place (15 teams)
2010 – 9W 13L 8T – 5th place (16 teams)
2011 – 6W 13L 15T- 8th place (18 teams)
2012 – 5W 21L 8T – 10th place – last in all of MLS (19 teams)
2013 – 6W 17L 11T – 9th place (19 teams)
Lifetime – 51W 92L 66T – dropping 408 of a possible 627 points (they’ve dropped 65% of their possible points in 7 years)

Never made the playoffs. Fraught with turmoil. 8 head coaches in 7 years. Attendance declining since 2010 peak of 20,453 to 2013 low of 18,131. That’s a 22% decline. Not exactly a history of success. While I typically wouldn’t get this excited about a team spending a ton of money to strengthen a team, even a team with a dismal history, Toronto FC is different because it’s very clear that MLS, to the exclusion of other teams, is pushing for Toronto FC to succeed. In fact, they seem to be changing the rules to help TFC. What do I mean? Designated Players. While I disagree with the premise of limiting clubs signings based on a small number of DPs entirely, the rules are the rules and currently, TFC is violating it, or they soon will be. Currently, TFC has Matias Laba (Argentina), Gilberto (Brazil) and Jermain Defoe (England) and now they are adding Michael Bradley (USA). Bradley certainly must be considered a DP based on his likely salary, his market value internationally and his stature. If Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Omar Gonazalez and Clint Dempsey are DPs, certainly Bradley, the starting central midfielder for the USMNT is a DP. So assuming that TFC continues this buying streak, they would not only surpass the two DP slots granted automatically, they would also have to buy the 3rd DP slot and now create a 4th. Unless the league claims that Laba or Gilberto are no longer DPs or that Defoe doesn’t count as a DP. Any of the scenarios smells like corruption. Toronto is already shelling out the money for players like Jackson (Brazil), Justin Morrow (USA) and bringing back hometown hero Dwyane De Rosario and now perhaps the two largest DP splashes of 2014.

Players want to play, I get that and I happen to believe that the way to improve the MLS is to put good players into the league and allow teams to compete for the best players. Certainly, the talent in the league is rising and has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. Today, there are 28 DPs (not including Bradley and Defoe), the most in history. Players want to play, both for club and country. Playing against the best talent in the world gets you noticed and often picked by your country for international duty. The reality is that Europe is where the highest class of players is. Until very recently, South America was next on the list but now, many would argue that MLS is equal to if not already surpassing the quality of South American football. Whatever your personal allegiance, it’s fair to say that players in either MLS or South America are no longer being snubbed by international coaches for lack of playing time against quality talent. Yet, while players want to play, they also want to play in the tournaments (playoffs) and high profile games. They don’t want to be mired at clubs that don’t make the Champions League, the MLS Cup or win their league. That makes me again ask, why Toronto FC?

We already can see why MLS would be pushing Toronto (even if it is poor form for a league to show such favoritism), Canadian fans get behind their teams and MLS wants the revenues from TV and stadium attendance from the Canadian fans. We also understand why Toronto as a city and Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment as an ownership group would welcome the MLS supporting their club, money flows all ways folks. Yet, I’m still not sold on why the players would choose TFC. Look, I get wanting playing time, I even get being wined and dined by MLS executives in some backroom sort of way to build up TFC artificially, I even get promises from TFC that they are building some sort of "win now" dynasty super squad. Couple all of that together and yea, maybe that’s the reason but look, there are plenty of other teams where top players like Bradley and Defoe could go today and win as the team’s center piece. And they could do it without sharing the spotlight with 3 other DPs and without compromising their moral values by knowingly entering a situation where MLS is bending if not destroying the rules to help them win. As I am a Philadelphia Union fan, I’m going to highlight my hometown team as one of those places. First, Philadelphia entered the MLS in 2010 and thus have four seasons as a body of work to look over.

2010 – 8W 15L 7T – 7th (16 teams)
2011 – 11W 8L 15T – 3rd – Eastern Conference Semifinals (18 teams)
2012 – 10W 18L 6T – 8th (19 teams) (Hosted MLS All Star game)
2013 – 12W 12L 10T – 7th (19 teams)
Lifetime – 41W 53L 38T – Dropped 235 out of a possible 396 points (they’ve dropped 59% of their possible points in 4 years)

Arguably, the Union have enjoyed more success in four years than Toronto has in 7. The Union have seen the playoffs, Toronto has never sniffed them. Since 2010, the Union have finished ahead of Toronto 3 out of 4 times. While Philly’s average attendance is also declining (19,254 in 2010 – 17,867 in 2013), it has done so by only 8%. So why not Philly? Why not choose the Union? The team is in need of a stud DP (or two) to bolster a young core lineup whose performance in 2013 was much better than their 7th place finish belies. They were in the running for a playoff spot right up until the final week despite a rough patch in the summer (largely thanks to a major goal drought for young star striker Jack McInerney). You would expect that Philadelphia would be a team attracting top DP looks if not racking up the big signings. I would think that a player like Bradley would see the hole in the Union midfield and realize that he could have a major impact for a club on the cusp of post season action as opposed to being one of the blocks in a Hail Mary by Canada, MLS and MLSE. Soccer fans in Philly and across the country ought to be up in arms over TFC’s moves. They ought to be jumping up and down and crying foul. They ought to tell the MLS Commissioner that it’s time to end corruption in the league and that he should step down in disgrace and allow new leadership to take over.

Finally, I’d like to give a huge "Shame On You!" to all of the reporters, journalists, analysts, and commentators who have been detailing the moves by Toronto. Not once have I heard anyone mention that Toronto would go over their DP limit as set by MLS. Not once has anyone commented on the untoward relationship between MLS and Toronto. You won’t get the kind of depth and field of study of the situation in Toronto from any of the talking heads. And I say why? These people know to the dollar how much the players are getting to move clubs but they can’t tell you that TFC is in essence, cheating? If Toronto wins any titles next year, from MLS Cup to Supporters Shield or even CONCACAF Champions League (by virtue of being the best of the horrible Canadian trio), it should do so in a shroud of controversy marred with asterisks and the knowledge that it simply purchased them, it didn’t earn them. With that said, I expect the Sons of Ben (SoBs) to give the TFC Dream Team the business when their club of mercenaries travels to PPL Park and I think their trip will still end with bruised egos, bloodied lips and another L in their long history of losing.

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