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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Balls of String: Stories to watch as Toronto FC plays out a lost season

"Today's attendance is 19,575... thank you fans"

Getting casual fans to watch TFC matches when times were good... well at least fun.... was a challenge. Now, as yet another season enters the "playing for next year" phase, even getting the most ardent supporters interested grows harder. For those of you who know they are addicted to this club and will be back next year despite 2012, finding a reason to watch a futile string of matches may be frustrating. So, if you need more reasons to watch a match aside from hearing Thomas Rongen's Dutch "donkey hitting his foot on a rock" analogy - here are some stories that you can keep your eye on...
 
FRINGS AIN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE
When we last heard, the club whispered under its breath that club captain Torsten Frings had suffered a hip injury and had headed back to Deutschland to visit some BundesDoctors. The wording seemed to hint that Frings may be shut down for the year and if that is the case - is it unreasonable to think that TFC may cut ties with the Bavarian talisman? Frings has definitely lost a step this season (possibly due to injury) but with only a year left on the pricey 35-year old, will the club look in a different direction? Also see: Danny Koevermans
NOW UPDATED WITH 50% MORE HORRIBLE TRUTH (HERE)
 
EL MILAGRO DE LA CONCACAF
Most sane Reds supporters would concede that TFC's 3-1 loss to Santos Laguna at BMO Field all but ends the club's quest to progress in Champions League. While all signs point to "no way Jose", could TFC pull out a miraculous double of victories in Mexico and El Salvador AND get help to steal their CCL Group?
 
4-4-?
While not exactly blessed with a plethora of football knowledge in his starting eleven, Paul Mariner's tactics as manager have been described (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) as "dump and chase" or "hoof ball". Decried as a relic of 1960's English football, the style has even drawn mocking from opponents and without the scoring prowess of Danny Koevermans has not been effective. Will Mariner try to massage a little more "football" into his soccer in an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff in his squad?
 
THAT ONE'S A KEEPER
It seems pretty evident that a TFC keeper is being frozen. No, not by an opponent from the penalty spot but by the coaching staff. After Stefan Frei went down with a major injury, Milos Kocic became the defacto # 1 but recently he has been replaced by very raw Bermudian Freddy Hall. Is Kocic's benching a sign that his TFC days are numbered and is Frei headed back to his place as The Reds' main man in goal for 2013?
 
END OF THE ROAD?
We may only see them if garbage minutes allow but it would seem as if 2012 may mark the end for a few old faces. Adrian Cann and Ty Harden have been phantoms (even when not injured) and do not seem to fit into Mariner's plans while other names such as Eric Avila have been surprising in their omissions. More than a few Reds may be down to their last few weeks with the club.
 
PETER OUT OR "PAUL" UP?
The on-field performance lately has been far from inspiring. Lack of talent is one thing but coming out flat is just downright infuriating for fans to watch. With little to play for except clichés, will we see a scrappy TFC inspired by their manager - or, will heads and effort levels drop in unison as other teams prepare for the playoffs?
 
CHILDREN ARE THE FUTURE?
Will the blend of injuries and general lack of talent on the club allow Paul Mariner to "audition" the younger members of the team for 2013? While a few veterans will be necessary to give the appearance of "trying" to win, the remaining fixtures may be an opportunity to see what youngsters can really cut it at the MLS level. While the likes of Ashtone Morgan and Luis Silva have solidified a future, names like Aaron Maund, Quincy Amarikwa, Matt Stinson and Logan Emory still need to show they have the consistency to demand a salary next year.
 
BIT OF A HASSLI
The imposing Frenchman avec le tattoos du neck was brought over to TFC as something of a panic buy after Danny Koevermans went down for the season and beyond. As far as panic buys go, he's a fairly good one - despite likely being able to snatch him for free at the end of 2012 if the injury hadn't forced Mariner's hand. However, Hassli has yet to find any consistency and has been far from the replacement needed up top. The Reds once again find themselves desperate for a consistent goalscorer but will Hassli find the form in the last few weeks of 2012 to warrant his pricey return?
 
TICKETS! WHO NEEDS 'EM, WHO WANTS "EM?
Oh to be a TFC Season Ticket Rep over the next few months. Not an enviable task. Through no fault of their own (except guilt by association), these poor souls will have to convince TFC season ticket holders to hand over wads of cash for yet another season that is yet to hold promise of much different. Many Day One ticket holders are finally calling it a day and casual support is bleeding on a weekly basis. Will MLSE have the Saputo-prodded smarts to lower season tickets across the board? GASP! Will they freeze ticket prices once again? Can they offer anything to the long-abused to avoid TFC matches from resembling FC Dallas matches? This is a question that only time will tell.
 
C.O.-OH NO!
The inevitable coronation of Tom Anselmi to MLSE's COO (aka head virgin sacrificer) will have many TFC supporters rolling their eyes. How a man so directly involved with the slaying of a golden goose is exalted to one of North America's highest sports management positions is beyond us, but hey. Maple Leafs and Raptors fans are suddenly screaming that "the sky is falling", but to them we say... "you are absolutely right". Welcome to our world. From a TFC slant, it will be interesting to see if Anselmi continues his iron grip over the club or if in a move of appeasement, an actual football man (not looking at you Earl Cochrane or Jim Brennan) is put into place as a TFC "President". Either that or the new owners move the Argos into BMO, get us a fluffy mascot, thundersticks and the TFC City Dancers. Whatevs.

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