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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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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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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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Even Don Draper couldn’t sell this team

Draper gets a red card… for looking so damn good!

Well, so much for the MLS SuperDraft reviving the hopes of the Toronto FC faithful. On a day when clubs are expected to get better, the Reds appear to have gone in the opposite direction – trading away a potential double-digit scorer in Chad Barrett while bringing in a prospect with an interesting bill of health and Ecuadorian soccer Smurf Joao Plata.

The diminutive playmaker promises goals, but until he can prove it the mantle of secondary scoring falls to Maicon and his 2010 tally of three.

So, if the ad men who operate out of 170 Princes Boulevard are able to come up with a plan to sell its wares to the growing group of south end malcontents, I suggest AtTheRails acknowledge the impossible with a first-annual Don Draper Award.

With that in mind, ATR is here to help with a few suggestions on how to sell the Reds in Season No. 5.

(Disclaimer: If any of the ideas listed below are adopted in any shape or form, ATR is entitled to one set of tickets to a Toronto FC playoff game of its choice. Said playoff tickets can also be written into any will.)

Winter year-round

Has anyone mentioned to coach No. 5 that his surname is a Canadian marketer’s dream? That said, for Reds’ marketing purposes the idea of Winter all year is a positive, for it means there will be just one coach instead of the token two fans have come to expect.

Season F-I’ve seen better

In Season Four the Reds cleverly (no, not Tom Cleverley) took the ‘our’ from ‘four’ and made it theirs. Fail. So in Season Five why not take the ‘I’ve’ from ‘Five’ and market better days, like when the team won 10 games and missed the playoffs on the last day. Nostalgia is a powerful drug.

At Least Our Guys Are Eligible

Sometimes the best way to build yourself up is to tear down those around you. With that in mind, remember that with the first overall selection, the expansion Whitecaps FC chose 17-year-old striker Omar Salgado. Due to his age and FIFA transfer rules, Salgado likely won’t be able to play a game for Vancouver until he turns 18 in September.

Of course, this marketing campaign would only be good for one season. By summer 2012, I fully expect Salgado will single-handedly win the undercontested Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

Now for a bit of Prem chatter, with a side of pub-bashing.

This is where Rafael goes, "Lalalala, I can't hear you..."

The best part about Sunday’s goalless draw at White Hart Lane was that it confirmed my local is no longer a reliable place to watch a match. While the breakfast fare is fine and the Caesars are spicy, the suggestion that volume is not necessary and may bother the other patrons sealed the deal.

Anyhow, my audio-free observations of the stalemate are that as long as the Premier League continues to be hotly contested this season, goals will remain at a premium. There is far too much at stake for the big clubs to play the football fans want to see.

Biased Man of the Match: Nemanja Vidic. The captain’s partnership with Rio is arguably the only reason United remain unbeaten.

Ryan Johnston

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What’s so super about it, anyway?

The inappropriately-named MLS Super Draft is a tough place to generate super results, especially when all your picks are outside the top 25. With that in mind, Sportsnet.ca’s RJ will weigh in Sunday with his thoughts on TFC’s draft day activity…I believe the working title for his piece is is “Rejected TFC Marketing Slogans for 2011.” At least the local XI are getting DeRo back from bonnie Scotland.

For now, our friend Paul Attfield of the Globe & Mail did a nice job documenting TFC’s picks today:

Highlight #1: Multitple sclerosis cost  newly-drafted defender Demetrius Omphroy a contract in Portugal, but after returning to the US and  playing college soccer at Cal, he hopes he has the disease under control.

Highlight #2: Late pick Joao Plata of Ecuador stands just 5’2″ and was the leading scorer at the MLS scouting combine with three goals. I’d say that’s no small achievement, except it is. But the man I’m dubbing The Wee Assassin seems to have a nose for the goal.

Vancouver used the top pick on Omar Salgado, even though they need FIFA permission for a full transfer before his 18th birthday on Sept. 10, ruling him out for nearly all their debut MLS season. The Whitecaps like Salgado and know him: he trained with the team last year. And they didn’t want to get the Steve Francis treatment from Darlington Nagbe, who went second to Portland and had made noises about not wanting to leave the United State. Because Vancouver and Toronto are such foreign, scary, evil, ugly places.  What a doofus. He deserves to get booed in both cities this summer.

Englishman John Rooney doesn’t mind going abroad for a game of footy – he went to the New York Red Bulls in the second round. Henry and Rooney on the same team, they can’t lose.

Back in Blighty, big brother Wayne and his Man. Utd teammates will take on Tottenham this Sunday…RJ’s team against mine. He’s promised to deliver a reasoned, rational, FOXNews-esque account of the EPL encounter. Don’t miss it.

Ian Harrison

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Determination by dolphin at MLS draft

Paul the Octopus is dead. Long live Willy! Or Flipper! Or whatever they call the dolphin who’ll be predicting the first pick at Thursday’s MLS Super Draft in Baltimore.

Anyone who’s read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy knows that dolphins are at least the second-most intelligent species on the planet, so you know the fellow with flippers be taking all the angles into account before deciding who the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps should select with the top selection. Plus, if he picks wrong, the team will send him to The Cove.

Toronto FC doesn’t have a dolphin, or even a first-round pick, in this year’s draft. The Reds have one second-round selection and two third-rounders, the 26th, 43rd and 44th picks overall. Expect our man Ryan to check back with an update on their selections in the next couple of days.

When they weren’t in training at this week’s MLS combine in Florida, some of Thursday’s potential picks were out in the Everglades looking for alligators. Among that boatload of  hopefuls was John Rooney, younger brother of Wayne, who’s over here looking for a job, and generating a bit of buzz. No idea whether they saw any dolphins down there.

In Florida, of course, the Dolphins and Gators generally play their football on the gridiron, not the soccer pitch. Despite a huge population of South and Central Americans, the state has had two failed MLS franchises and won’t be getting another until they can prove things will work out better, as commish Don Garber told a disappointed audience in Miami this week.

From strange animals in Florida to strange decisions in London, where Tottenham say they’d demolish most of the Olympic Stadium if they move there after the 2012 games. Spurs seem determined not to meet the requirements for moving into the venue, but would rather bolt the borough and save some cash by working with an existing site. Hard to see how the Olympic Park Legacy people won’t rule in favour of West Ham when they make their decision on January 28th. Even a dolphin would pick the Hammers for this one.

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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