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With roster rebuilt, TFC’s attention must turn to stadium expansion

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Early on in Monday’s splashy unveiling of high-priced talent for long-suffering Toronto FC, Tim Leiweke described his outlay of $100 million dollars on three designated players as “financial suicide.”

And here’s why, in the words of the refreshingly frank and delightfully bold MLSE head honcho himself: “We don’t have enough seats to make economic sense out of this.”

Toronto’s DP slots have been filled to overflowing. Next on the agenda is the expansion of BMO Field. An announcement on the matter, possibly a funding agreement with government blessing, can be expected “in the very near future,” Leiweke said Monday.

Like the influx of new stars, it won’t come cheap. Not that MLSE can’t afford it, mind you. But they’re looking at dropping another $100 million at least, or maybe as much as double BMO’s original $63 million price tag, to breathe new life into a bare bones facility that still isn’t even a decade old.

“If we have one of the top teams in the league, we have to have one of the top stadiums in the league, so we’re committed to working with the city and trying to find a vision that significantly enhances the stadium,” Leiweke told a media scrum Monday, moments after taking the wraps off striker Jermain Defoe and midfielder Michael Bradley

Updated digs will add an anticipated 8,000 seats to TFC’s lakeside home, probably with an upper deck stacked on top of the current east stand and further changes behind one or both goals. Leiweke’s typically grandiose plans include visions of Grey Cup games and NHL Winter Classics at BMO, with temporary seating boosting capacity as high as 40,000 for one-off events.

The fan experience will be improved with modern touches like WiFi routers and HD televisions, similar to those at Kansas City’s soccer playpen. There’s also likely to be some kind of roof, given that Leiweke has promised to give the place more of a “European flavour.” And while, strictly from an aesthetic standpoint, that’ll probably ruin one of the prettiest stadium views on the continent, it’s also the inevitable price of progress in the march towards a bigger and better future.

photo-5The other, somewhat more ominous expectation is that any renovation to BMO will make sure it can also accommodate the 150-yard field required by the Toronto Argonauts, whose time under the roof of Rogers Centre is running short. Amid debate over retractable seat technology to handle the CFL’s expansive end zones and yard-line markings that can be washed away between uses, the more troubling matter here is the heavy toll the gridiron game is likely to take on the immaculate natural surface preferred for soccer. Leiweke insists scheduling can be handled so the grass always gets a week off for repair, but alarm bells are ringing nevertheless.

As a goodwill gesture to fans, TFC has frozen ticket prices for the coming season, hoping to reverse a slide that saw attendance fall to just over 18,000 last year. But win or lose with the raft of new additions, there can be little doubt that it will soon take more green to watch the Reds play. And despite the lofty price tag, Leiweke is convinced his costly endeavour will soon bear fruit for MLSE.

“We’re going to be the first $50-million gross-revenue club in the history of soccer in North America, going all the way back to the [NASL’s New York] Cosmos,” he pledged Monday. His track record suggests he’s the type of man to make that happen, someone whose ideas aren’t likely to wither and die in focus group sessions with fans or design discussions with architects.

The roster has been rebuilt, but that’s only the beginning. More change is coming at TFC. Expect a bigger, better home field, and a CFL tenant, by the time the dust settles.

Ian Harrison

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Not Total Football, more total makeover

A big welcome this weekend to a new voice for At The Rails. Ryan Johnston has done plenty of TFC coverage and other soccer reporting for Sportsnet.ca in recent years. He’s here to blog about Toronto’s Reds, his beloved Red Devils of Manchester, and other stories from the footy world. In his debut, Ryan says playoff-poor TFC was smart not to hire big names for its management vacancies.

Dan Gargan at wing back? Don't make me laugh.

Enough with the total football references; Dan Gargan at wingback will never work.

That said, and as odd as it may seem, the best thing supporters can sing in the wake of Toronto FC (finally) hiring a new management team is, ‘Who are ya?

The fifth year MLS club with a first-year resume made the right decision to take the path less chosen and opt for a set of names known to very few outside of the aforementioned Total Football circles.

In are Aron Winter, Bob de Klerk and Paul Mariner, out is the adage that only the best will do.

Sure, the soccer intelligentsia are familiar with Toronto’s new triumvirate, but consider the following: TFC fans have spent the past few months being regaled with names of the well-known: Roberto Donadoni, Iain Dowie and Carlos Quieroz. It reeked of redundancy, because ever since this red rag-tag of names and numbers took the field for the first time in 2007, every big name available in soccer has been linked for a trial or tryout.

So exhalations of here we go again were excused when the type-A (Mo) Johnston was sacked and succeeded by someone just his type in Juergen (Klinsmann, whose SoccerSolutions firm was brought in to consult). But when the fickle former German player and manager admitted his time with TFC was akin to a hobby, not a full-time habit, supporters exhaled once again.

But this time it was with relief.

And so it goes that the German great stayed silent as the Reds’ rumour mill noisily churned out big name after big name. Then just as ‘cause for concern’ was being typed in to keyboards country-wide, Klinsmann quietly delivered.

Ryan Johnston

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TFC Mines Aron to Strike Gold

Winter promises improved summer

Total football is coming to Toronto this season, thanks to newly-appointed Head Coach and Technical Director Aron Winter and his new management team. Winter will be Toronto FC’s sixth head coach, as the team heads into its fifth MLS season.

It has been a tumultuous four years for Toronto FC as the revolving door of coaches and G.M.’s goes round and round.  Every year since the franchise broke into the league, MLSE has made announcements of firings and hirings of coaches. Finally last fall, the man who was in charge of making those coaching changes — Mo Johnston — was shown the door.

This time around — with the help of German international Juergen Klinsmann — the club hopes to get it right.  Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment C.O.O. Tom Anselmi says there’s pressure to please the 20-thousand faithful who come out every game in support of a team that hasn’t been able to get into the playoffs since the “model franchise” joined the league.

Call me optimistic but it seems TFC has finally got the right team of front office staff, who looked confident in front of a packed news conference, answering questions about a franchise that had hit rock bottom in the way it handled business on and off the field.

Director of Player Development Paul Mariner brings MLS experience to the club.  In his six seasons in New England, his teams made the playoffs every year while reaching the finals in three consecutive seasons.  Winter and Assistant Coach Bob De Klerk will be in tough as they try and develop a style of soccer not seen in Toronto and will need an upgrade in personnel to do so. With just over two months until the start of the year, they know it will be a challenge.

Meanwhile, the head coach — a Dutch international and former Ajax midfielder — says he wants to develop a system which will see three strikers up front with plenty of ball movement… a style he says fits the way he envisions his team playing.  Winter has played in three World Cups with Netherlands and four European Championships…  so the pressure and challenges presented to him in Toronto should be a piece of cake.

Len Grammenopoulos

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TFC in need of stability

There's not much to smile about for Tom Anselmi and TFC.

Toronto F.C. held its annual post mortem on Tuesday, ending a disappointing season that saw the club miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

Player after player stood at the podium and answered questions about what they thought went wrong in 2010.What started as the year everything was supposed to change, the year in which TFC was supposed make the playoffs and challenge for a berth in the MLS Cup (scheduled for November 21 on the home grass of BMO Field), has ended as badly or worse than any season before it.

First up was C.E.O. Tom Anselmi, the man in the hot seat right now. Anselmi is in charge of bringing in the right people to do the job Mo Johnston couldn’t. He blamed the instability of the team on its constantly changing coaches (five in four years) and a revolving door in the team’s dressing room that has made it hard for the club to have any kind chemistry. When he makes his next front office hire, Anselmi desperately needs to get it right this time.

Dwayne De Rosario

Next up was captain and team leader Dwayne DeRosario.  He came here to win championships.  He did his part scoring 15 goals on a team that was built around Preki’s defence first mentality. As much as he might like to, DeRosario can’t sign his own paycheque. He expects to be back, but refused to talk about his contract situation. Interim G.M. Earl Cochrane says keeping DeRo happy is a top priority but the Canadian international plans to keep a close eye on what MLSE does in the offseason.

All the players said they were happy in Toronto and would like to stay on next year, those with contracts and those without.  Maicon Santos wants to be back, Chad Barrett called Toronto is a special place and expects to return.  Adrian Cann enjoys playing in his home town and wants to come back.

Julian DeGuzman was uncharacteristically upbeat and chatty, sayinghe  wants to win in his home town.  DeGuzman says he’s scored four goals his whole career and hopes the fans and media will understand he’s not here to score goals and the team doesn’t need a major overhaul.

Last up were Cochrane, aAssistant G.M. Jim Brennan and interim coach Nick Dasovic.  The three are not guaranteed to be back next year but said they will go on scouting and signing players as they see fit.  Cochrane said TFC needs to get younger and quicker and be able to adapt to the North American style of travel and play (are you listening, Mista?).  If offered the position full-time, both Dasovic and Cochrane would be happy to stay on.

From top to bottom, players and management all echoed the same sentiment: this club needs stability and leadership.  The constant turnover of coaches and players must end to give the players time to learn a system and be able to gel, both on the field and off.

Lenny Grammenopoulos

 

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MLSE’s ticking time bomb

If Saturday’s away defeat to Seattle proves one thing, it’s that Toronto FC has an awful long way to go before the club can justify the support it gets.

At one stage during the 3-2 defeat at Qwest Field, it felt scarily like the men against the boys, providing clear evidence on the differences between the operation of the two clubs. Seattle, resplendent in their attacking, free-flowing style, looked light years ahead of their Canadian counterparts. Toronto struggled to match the hosts for pace, passing and persistence.

Arguably, you cannot blame the players. TFC has something of a reputation for not being aesthetically pleasing but robust, solid and unwilling to surrender. As their form earlier this season suggested, they don’t go down without a fight. But try as they might, they simply don’t possess the quality to compete. So, who is to blame?

Let’s have a look at Toronto’s other teams. The Maple Leafs, bursting with proud hockey history but without silverware in 43 years, frequently fill their arena and subsequently annoy their fans with sub-par performances. The Blue Jays, World Series Champions in 1992 and 1993, produce fine displays in infrequent bursts, and even finished with a winning record against the New York Yankees this season. However, regardless of their fine start, they yet again failed to make the playoffs. As for the Raptors, now without Chris Bosh, they’re really pretty rubbish, aren’t they?

Sensing a pattern yet? All four of Toronto’s sports teams offer so much, yet always fail to deliver. With finance readily available, the sensible application of it is distinctly missing. Money is thrown around and season tickets prices are hiked.

But the biggest connection is ownership. Three of these four teams are run by the Maple Leas Sports and Entertainment. In fact, the one that isn’t is the most recent champion, the Rogers Communications-owned Blue Jays.

MLSE take it for granted that their huge fan base will always come out, regardless of price. Toronto FC charges an extortionate amount for its top tickets. Even more, in fact, than Manchester United charge. Next season, fans will have to fork out even more.

Mark my words, if Toronto FC doesn’t invest in three top acquisitions during the off-season, and I mean top signings, next season will see a mass exodus of support. Already, red seats seem to outnumber real fans at home games. If things keep going like this, TFC will sink without a trace. A revolving door of playerd and management simply doesn’t work.

Do yourselves a favour, MLSE, give Tomas Rosicky and Deco a call and agree a contract. It may seem ludicrous, but who’d have thought three years ago that Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez would be playing for a team named after an energy drink?

Sam Saunders

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