Category Archives: Major League Soccer

Toronto’s Footballing Folk Heroes?

TFC

The football media in North America went into overdrive this afternoon over a report that has been brewing for months.  Now, the continent’s worst-kept secret is almost completely out of the bag. Everyone is expecting England international Jermain Defoe to sign with Toronto Football Club from Tottenham Hotspur.  The striker has been unhappy for months because of his almost-permanent place on the substitute’s bench during league play (although he’s been well-used in Spurs’ cup adventures).  TFC will end the speculation on Monday when they unveil the striker at a press conference.  Here is Toronto FC trying to be coy on Twitter:

However, the “Big Deal” may be even bigger.  There is word that Defoe is not the only big-name coming to Hogtown.   Both SI.com’s Grant Wahl and ESPNFC.com’s Jeff Carlisle write that USMNT member Michael Bradley will leave Mediterranean shores for Lake Ontario beaches, for virtually the same reasons.

The pair will reportedly cost $100 M dollars, with Defoe earning an estimated $148,000 US per week, or about $7.7M US for the season.  Other reports say Bradley’s salary is on the same street, not including the $7M-$10M that TFC will pay AS Roma for the midfielder.  All in all, it’s a lot of coin for a club worth only $120M.   There is also the small matter of the salary cap, and having to fit in four Designated Players into three spots: Defoe, Bradley, Gilberto, and Matias Laba, who looks to be the odd-man out (ironically, considering all the hype and hurdles that surrounded the Argentine’s signing last spring).  But that’s for the accountants to work out.

TFC's Three Wise Men

TFC’s Three Wise Men: (L-R) Bezbatchenko, Leiweke, Nelsen

What you do have to admire is the gusto with which the club is making changes.  No doubt, this is down to the arrival of new Maple Leaf Sports Entertainement CEO Tim Leiweke.  The former Anshultz Entertainment Group boss revamped the sports landscape in Los Angeles, in a way that benefited both the product and the bottom line.  That appears to be the motivation here as well.

Defoe would be TFC’s first really big soccer “name” who, despite sitting out much of last season, still has some love to give.  He’s only 31… not exactly a player ready for the elephant graveyard that is often Major League Soccer.   It will be interesting to see if he and Gilberto become the club’s starting strike force, although with the wages they are on, you would expect that formation to be a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, Bradley adds much-needed grit in the middle of the park.  He’ll be joined in the midfield by Canada’s best-ever player, Dwayne DeRosario, who gets unveiled by the club tomorrow.   The changes are radical… but radical changes are needed.  After seven seasons, Toronto FC has never made the playoffs.  That is offensive to a fan base that was amongst the league’s most vocal and loyal until they swallowed almost a decade worth of disappointment.  With this in mind, the club has acted boldly, even going so far as to delay season-ticket sales so they could show off their newest acquisitions.

The moves are basic sports business wisdom:  the win column is full of dollar signs.  However, it’s more than that.  Leiweke knows that sports fans want heroes.  This is especially true in Toronto.  How else do you explain the Danny Dichio phenomenon, a journeyman who came here and became bigger than he ever was in Europe? You only have to look at the Toronto players who have been idolized by the faithful:  the Maple Leafs’ Tie Domi and Wendel Clark,  Roy Halladay for the Blue Jays, the Raptors’ Alvin Williams.   Toronto loves their blue-collar players; call it a product of the city’s Scottish Presbyterian roots.

So sure, Toronto FC supporters want to win. But even more than that, they want players they can get behind and build mythologies around.  Defoe, Bradley, DeRosario: those are Toronto’s kind of players.  Now let’s see what they can do on the pitch, come March.

Brent P. Lanthier

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Beckham’s future? Bet on France

After he trained with Tottenham last winter, I suspected David Beckham might wind up with Spurs once his LA Galaxy days came to an end when the MLS year ends next month. Now I’m not so certain. In my Toro Magazine column this week, I peg newly-wealthy Paris Saint-Germain as the likely club to land Becks.

If Beckham doesn’t come to Tottenham, it’s not a major loss. There’s no need for Spurs to overpay for a 36 year old winger who would really only be a luxury addition to the squad, no matter how much experience and savvy he might bring (or how much Rafael van der Vaart moans about playing out wide).

The Galaxy may miss Beckham a bit more, although they’ve always got Robbie Keane, and his lovely lady, to brighten up life in La La Land.

Ian Harrison

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Salt Lake shake things up

At The Rails’ own Ian Harrison weighs in on the success of MLS side Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League. Make sure to check out his weekly column, Egos & Icons, for Toro Magazine.  He knows stuff.  Stuff about sports. When you read his column, you will too.

Brent Lanthier

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Dumbfounded by DeRo’s departure

What if your favourite team just doesn’t want to win?  This is what I ask myself as Toronto FC reveals that it has traded Dwayne DeRosario to the New York Red Bulls.

First let’s look a little closer at the man known as “DeRo” and the reasons I hate this trade.

1) DeRo is the best Canadian player in MLS.  This is really not a debatable point, it’s a fact.   Oh and TFC, you have a quota of Canadian players.  You need three.  You will have three worse than DeRo.

2) Not only is he Canadian, he’s a hometown boy from Scarborough!  A great example for budding local soccer stars that they should stick with it.

3) He already has one goal this year out of the four that TFC have scored.  By the way, he had 15 goals last year and TFC scored 33.  Let me repeat, he had 15 of his team’s 33 goals.  And who knows how many of the other goals he set up.  In 57 total games for Toronto, he had 27 goals.

4) Next, I know he wanted a raise, but how could anyone blame him when he scored nearly half of the team’s goals and got paid $443,750.  Julian de Guzman, his far less valuable teammate, made $1.7 million.

5) I own a DeRo T-shirt.

So yeah, he publicly embarrassed the team a couple times with his cheque signing ceremony and taking off to train with Celtic.  But Earth to TFC… you should have paid him more in the first place. Who else on your team would be invited to train with Celtic!?!?!?!?!?! His contribution in his short time easily equals that of Danny Dichio and Jim Brennan, so I guess his jersey is going on the Hall of Fame wall? I won’t hold my breath.

Does anyone remember when we traded Edson Buddle to L.A. for Tyrone Marshall?  Buddle went on to score roughly 20 goals the following season.  I forget where Marshall is now.  Or trading Carl Robinson, another fan favourite, because we got de Guzman?  I really don’t see a huge difference in the two aside from Julian being younger.  And Robinson had a couple of sweet goals to his name during his time with TFC.  While I go over the recent calamities, why was Toronto the only place where Jeff Cunningham couldn’t score?   And why did we trade Marvell Wynne?  He’s only on the U.S. national team… but I guess Nick LaBrocca is better.  Oh wait, we traded Nick LaBrocca.

TFC, you are killing me.  Aron Winter: you are making me miss Mo Johnston.  I look forward to DeRo and Robinson lifting the MLS Cup for the New York Red Bulls this November.  Oh, and by the way, DeRo has won the MLS Cup four times.  TFC has never made the playoffs.  Gee, I can’t figure out why trading all the good players isn’t working for them…

Angry diatribe by fantasy guru Scott Ferguson, who also still misses Jim Brennan

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Hanging with Chad: Ochocinco gets MLS tryout

The threat of a looming NFL lockout is apparently of little concern to crazy Cincinnati receiver Chad Ochocino. He’s making plans to give up the gridiron and play proper football instead. Number 85, a noted soccer fan who played the game in his youth, has signed on for a four-day trial with Sporting Kansas City. Hachi Go will hit the pitch next Tuesday, hoping to fulfill what he calls “a childhood dream.”

If you follow Chad on Twitter, you’ll know already that he’s a serious footy fan: he travelled to Europe to meet top players and attend both matches and training. But trying to win a spot with Sporting KC, and not a top team across the pond, means Ochocinco is falling short of the plan he proposed for his footy career a couple of years back, when he mused about a stint in Serie A.

At The Rails would like to wish Johnson/Ochocinco the best of luck with his trial. Rejects from the EPL aren’t likely to put bums in the seats, but if Chad hangs in KC, he might bring more attention to the middling league than David Beckham ever could.

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Patience is a Winter virtue

Rodin's 'Thinker' has nothing on our gaffer.

A rather prominent member of the U-Sector, with close ties to the hierarchy of Toronto FC, told me before the MLS Cup Final last year that a tide was turning at the club, and that those moaning in the various other supporter clubs were acting like spoiled children. I agreed with him on the latter viewpoint: we certainly have a boisterous, opinionated set of fans.

But it was the second point I couldn’t agree with. Only the Sunday before I had watched Columbus’ ‘keeper equalize in the dying minutes as the woeful TFC defence played musical statues. Add that to the recent fan protests that made continental news and the tide-turning seemed little more than evaporation.

That was until I took a few days off and watched various pre-season games in Turkey and at Disneyland (that still makes me cringe). Gone was the apparent feeling of cluelessness, and in came a new, improved vigour, confidence and free-flowing football. If the much-publicized Dutch style Mr. Winter has been adding has shown us one thing, it’s this: we have players who will run with the damn ball.

Last year, even on the hottest of summer days, the ball spent so much time in the air it had snow on it. It was frustrating, demoralizing football that drained the crowd and added to their venting. As of late, the ball rarely goes above knee-height, like you were always taught as a kid, and players are encouraged to express themselves and look for the short, snappy pass.

Fancy, perhaps. The right way, arguably yes. It doesn’t come overnight though, in fact maybe not even this season, but it will. The younger players I saw on the pre-season tour are the best I’ve seen in TFC colours, way better than last season’s crop.

So instead of supporter groups showing disharmony and painting a picture of doom and gloom, they need to realize that football teams don’t change overnight, and given time, this really is a team that will grow to be Canada’s finest.

Sam Saunders

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The Football Brand in America

Beckham: The Face of Football in America

This week, Bloomberg Businessweek released its Power 100 ranking of the most prominent athletes in America.  Only two football players made it: Landon Donovan came in at 40th — on the strength of his exposure from the World Cup — and David Beckham… of course.

Becks came in at 19th… which is not bad, but it’s not great.  He came ahead of Derek Jeter (Mr. Yankee himself), Venus Williams, NFL photographer Brett Favre and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (America luuuuuvvvvvs its NASCAR!!!).

David Beckham the Brand has become bigger than David Beckham the Player ever was.  The high-profile wife, the high-profile teams, the high-profile switch to the MLS.  Becks is photogenic, scandal-free (lately) and is one of the few soccer players who will get stopped on the streets of North America.  He’s a marketers dream… which is why the MLS inked a major deal to make him the poster boy for the LA Galaxy and, by proxy, the League itself.

Becks tells Capello he still wants to play for England...

Except it hasn’t exactly worked out that way.  Becks hasn’t played nearly as much as he was supposed to, focusing more on his waning England career… and trying to get as much continental football to fight for his place on the Three Lions. That quixotic quest led him to infamously tear his Achilles tendon while playing for Milan… excluding him from the World Cup AND his MLS obligations.  He tried to earn a temporary place back in England this winter… but the Galaxy are apparently getting fed up with his wantaway ways.

Thierry Henry looks miserable in NYC

Becks’ signing with El Lay hasn’t exactly brought the intended stampede of Europeans to American airports either.  Lots of fading players give lip service to wanting to end their careers here, but that’s all it’s been… lip service.  And those who have come have become anonymous. Thierry Henry — the world’s greatest striker in his day — claims to take the New York subway to home games and practices, travelling unaccosted.

Becks’ ranking indeed shows his marketing power… and his marketing potential.  But with only one other player on the list — an American who is a regular squad member in any big European club — it goes to show you how far football/soccer still has to go in the eyes of the North American consumer.

Brent Lanthier

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