What's Happening in Toronto? (Pt. 2): Behind Enemy Lines

One writer dares to cross into enemy territory, but the suits may not be the enemies you think they are
by Sonja Missio   |   Monday, October 15, 2012

Red Dawn Rising - column on Toronto FC (TFC) & the Toronto Ontario soccer scene

On Friday night, the south end of BMO Field was packed to the metaphorical rafters with chanting fans done up in red. Flags waved, scarves were lifted and somewhere, someone shook boxes of Kraft Dinner as a noise marker.

The energy, enthusiasm and love in BMO was a sight to be believed; people braved the cold – I could see my breath! – to cheer on their Reds.

The Reds, in this case, being the Canadian Men’s National Team, and the love and support was for a World Cup Qualifier.

However, BMO used to be like that during Toronto FC games as well. It use to have one of the best atmospheres in the world that and, dare I say, could have rivaled Camp Nou, San Siro or Westfalenstadion (now Signal Iduna Park); what TFC supporters lacked in numbers, they made up with enthusiasm. But now, to the naked eye, BMO’s red bucket seats seem to outnumber fans 2:1.

I have been thinking about how I was going to write Part Two of this column for a long time, as I am in a very difficult position. On one hand, I am a TFC fan (or, supporter, if you care about semantics) and I feel each loss and I want my team to do better. But on the other, I am also Swiss.

As much as it is unpopular to do so, I am trying to remain neutral in this situation; I legitimately sympathize with both sides: the Toronto FC fans and the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) suits. I know it’s all the rage (figuratively and literally) to blame management, but I prefer to look at the situation rationally.

Like I stated last week, I do not claim to speak on behalf of either party; rather, I am just trying to map out what is going on in Toronto. This week I will continue to do so, but from (what I think is) MLSE’s point of view. This is not the gospel according to the organization, but rather what I have argued on Lakeshore over plastic pints of Carlsberg.

When I talk to Toronto fans about their problems with TFC, it always comes down to three things: coaching (or, lack thereof), players (or, lack thereof), and staff (or, too much of).  

So, what exactly do you want?

The answer comes fairly easily: They want MLSE to deliver, but, ironically, fans do not seem to understand that MLSE has already done exactly that. The calls for new coaches, new players and new staff have actually all been answered; they just have yet to have an effect on the team’s results.

Consider that Toronto has had no fewer than seven coaches in six years. Every time something goes wrong, it’s “fire the coach!” which the suits in charge do. Then it’s, “how can we have a stable team if you keep firing the coach?” It’s a lose-lose situation for MLSE.

Fans demand immediate results from the perfect coach, except, other than Mo Johnston, who started as head coach in 2006 and left as director of soccer in 2010, no coach has really been given a long run with the team.

And it’s not just the coaches that have been criticized, but their style of play as well. Each coach has brought in something different to the team, which fans have rejected.

For example, the most recent Aron Winter and Paul Marnier turnover.

Winter, who is a former Ajax/Lazio/Inter player and Ajax academy team coach, was hired with promises of bringing Total Football to Toronto. He was also brought in on the advice of Jürgen Klinsmann, who MLSE hired when the company realized it did not have the experience to hire a new coach and needed an outside consultant for the team.

However, even Klinsmann’s choice was unable to live up to expectations. Despite leading the most successful Champions League campaign in club history, Winter also had the worst start of a season in TFC history, losing the first nine consecutive games. Fans called for Winter – and his style – to be changed.

Winter was soon dismissed, and the organization had a quick turnaround. Paul Mariner, then-cirector of player development and brought in with Winter under Klinsmann, became the new coach and began to bring in wins.

Again, however, the city’s love affair did not last long and fans became restless with Marnier’s style of play. Even today, fans continue to criticize Marnier’s choice of players and their positions, despite the fact that the current TFC roster is injury ridden; there is simply not enough players with experience to form the team Toronto wants.

While it’s true that Toronto’s habit of conceding at least once after the 80th minute has become a running-but-now-gone-too-far joke, Marnier is working with the best he’s got. Unfortunately, his best simply isn’t good enough for Toronto. Now fans are calling for Marnier’s resignation and MLSE will most likely comply, bringing in their eighth coach before the start of the seventh season.

Fans never seem happy with player selection, either. But once again, every demand that fans have made, MLSE has met (except for maybe Alessandro Nesta this past summer).

Fans want new players, MLSE gets new players and are then criticized once again for having a high squad turnover. Consider the Dwayne De Rosario saga: Fans called for De Rosario’s expulsion from the team, and MLSE complied. Then, when De Rosario started to do well for other teams (New York Red Bulls, DC United), fans shot back at MLSE asking how it could have possibly traded away the team’s best player. I would not be surprised if the very same happens again with Julian De Guzman.

MLSE has also listened to the call for more experienced players, bringing in European veterans such as Torsten Frings, Danny Koevermans and eventually MLS-fan favorite Eric Hassli (from a rival Vancouver too, no doubt!). The squad also has tried to have a balance of homegrown, academy players, such as Doneil Henry and Ashtone Morgan, too.

But with a season full of injuries – at one point, all of the designated players were on the injury list – the team was once again not strong enough to secure a playoff spot.

For, as every fan will remind you, the sixth year in a row.

However, there is really one thing MLSE can – and should – do to satisfy fans, and that is to remember that they own the soccer club. Fans have developed a persecution complex, where they seem think that MLSE is out to get them. But there is a remedy to all of this.

And, believe it or not, it’s fairly simple.

TFC needs to be treated like a soccer club, not “just another sports team that MLSE owns.” It is unique and different from the more established Leafs and Raptors, and MLSE needs to cultivate the club so it can grow and mature. In order to do this, they need to stop looking into the world of sports, where the biggest and the brightest stars win, but rather, stop and consider what works for MLS.

In other words, play in the league they’re in.

What would work for Toronto FC is following similar models that other MLS teams have used to become successful, and there’s no better time to do it than the present. Recently, Tom Anselmi, who formerly served as a TFC top executive, was promoted to president and chief operating officer of MLSE, leaving his TFC-specific position open. It is a role such as this that should be filled by someone MLS-specific, not MLSE-specific.

This is the front office change that Toronto needs. It’s not a new coach (though, the friction between fans and Mariner may be too much for Mariner to stay), or new players; instead, it is the foundation of the team – yes the suits and the decision-makers – that need to be put in place.

The best thing MLSE can do for the fans now is realize it owns a soccer team that needs to be run as a soccer team.

And the best thing fans can do for TFC is to show up at the last home game this Saturday, Oct. 20, remembering: all for one.

NEXT UP: Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact (last home game of the season) at BMO Field on Oct. 20 at 1:30 p.m. EST.


Univ. of Guelph, Univ. of W. Ontario, Brock University
Club Domestic:
Toronto FC
Club Foreign:
Supported Udinese since birth, TFC was her own stupid decision; writing on her masochistic relationship with soccer started after. Doomed as a Canadian - Friulano - Swiss - Filipina. Searching for Juventini actually from Turin and running for FIFA Prez.