The Yorkies' Regular Features

Starting 11       The Word       The Matchup       After 90       The South Stand Report

Monday, November 30, 2009

THE WORD: MLSE trying to block Argos' punt to BMO?

----------------------Football only. No football allowed.

Just when the Argos looked like they were about to cross into a new BMO Field end zone, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment called an audible. Announcements have arisen today that an immediate North End expansion to BMO Field in a football (FIFA not CFL) configuration has been proposed to the City Of Toronto.

The plan would see MLSE stump up the complete cost (approximately $2 Million) to add a permanent stand rising above the current beer garden which would have 1249 new seats. The proposal will be put forward for approval to the Exhibition Place board this Friday and if it succeeds that hurdle, would go before city council in January. If this follows the same level of success that the new grass did, the TFC fans will be able to see the new stand in time for the 2010 season opener.

Of course, the most important element of this plan is the potential to stymie any power play by the Argos to squeeze their way into the soccer-specific stadium. Poured concrete and tightly fitted stands would leave very little wiggle room to put in an American size field let alone the giant dimensions of a CFL field.

Is this a serious shot right back at the Argos by MLSE? Yes and no. The reality is likely that MLSE's accountants figured that the revenue they could gain from International friendlies, like last summer's Real Madrid visit, and Team Canada matches far outweighs the potential revenue from Argos regular season matches. Even CFL full houses don't give The Bay Street bankers the one night mega millions like The Galacticos did.

Whatever the reason for MLSE's sudden willingness to spend their own cash on expansion is, TFC supporters should be thankful - and that is hard to get out of my mouth. If this plan does not pass then we know that the pro-gridiron faction is too strong at City Hall and the Argos are a shoe-in to be shoe-horned into BMO.

Let's hope Mayor Miller isn't a lame duck yet and can push this plan through fast and easily. If the Mayor can get it done, every TFC supporter (no matter what your political stripe is) owes him a beer for keeping the pointy-ball types out for good and saving this club's long-term future. And yes, as hard as it is to swallow pride - we will have to thank Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. I just threw up in my mouth a bit.


Friday, November 27, 2009

THE WORD: TFC's future about to be blitzed?

----------------------Coming soon to a BMO Field near you

This time you have to think it's for real. The Toronto Argonauts owners are aggressively petitioning The City of Toronto and the CFL to move the team to BMO Field. When this has been rumoured in the past it was always ignored as hot air from the Argos' camp but this time politicians are weighing in and it's bad news for Toronto FC supporters.

Numerous councillors including Joe Pantalone are already backing the plan if the Argos and the CFL can get their act together. Changes will have to be made to BMO Field to incorporate the long field and eliminate the curved stands currently used for real football leaving BMO as an awful place to watch a TFC match. The worst change will of course be the pitch, completely covered with gridiron lines, Rona and Wendy's ads and huge chunks out of the grass that TFC supporters begged for for three years.

Many TFC supporters will believe that MLSE will ride in and save the day but so far they are playing the victim. They will quietly cry foul that the mean city took away their soccer stadium all the while rubbing their hands with glee at the extra revenue they will receive from another 9 or 10 events. Don't look to MLSE to "protect the soccer experience" if it means getting in the way of a few extra bucks.

MLSE will believe that nothing can destroy the faithful TFC supporters, they are after all "Leafs Fans 2.0" right? Wrong. One season of soccer on gridiron will be all it takes to deliver the death blow to Toronto FC. Football has been successful this time around in Toronto because it looks like football and that's what Torontonian's like. It will look like bush-league NASL re-runs with the Argos influence on BMO Field and Toronto fans will react by not showing up.

This may be more opinion rather than fact-based, but remember where you read it first if and when it does happen. If the Argos move into BMO Field, TFC will become an off the field failure within two seasons and be sold to David Beckham's consortium so that they can be re-located to New York and become the Nu-Cosmos. If this sounds impossible, we will leave you with this quote from Toronto Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone - “We’re prepared to get married, but we need a proper proposal. Absolutely (an Argos move to BMO Field), would be good for Exhibition Place, the city, and the CFL.” Sounds like a touchdown.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Union take a pass on TFC's extras

The grinding of teeth you may have heard this afternoon would have been Preki's when he realized that MLS new boys Philadelphia didn't make his life easier. Amado Guevara would seem to be the 300 pound headache in the TFC dressing room and the new manager was likely hoping that Union would relieve him of the Honduran. But alas, Philadelphia did not select any of TFC's unprotected lot and Guevara will have to be dealt with by Team Preki another day.

Good news however would be that TFC manages to hold on to Brian Edwards as their back-up goalkeeper. Despite the 5-o drubbing by New York at the end of the season, which no one should blame Edwards for, he is a very capable # 2 to Stefan Frei and the duo make a nice tandem.

So The Reds stay intact for another day with changes most likely on the horizon. The only real negative to come out of today was that Chad Barrett's inclusion on the protected list actually wasn't a joke and he will most likely be starting on day one of 2010. Maybe the new NASL is having a draft - he'd look great as an Atlanta Silverback!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

To swerve and protect

--------------"I know, I can't believe I'm protected either Amado!"

You would like to think that tomorrow's MLS Expansion Draft is on the up and up but you can't help but wonder what negotiations and side deals were cut with new boys Philadelphia Union beforehand. TFC and the other existing clubs had to reveal their protected players yesterday and the names on the BMO Field list threw up some curiosities indeed.

On the protected side, the great Chad Barrett mystery continues. Where this Muppet garners his TFC respect from is shocking. What has he shown? Jim Brennan was a slight surprise as well and likely has to do more with "first player in" loyalty than any remaining quality. The only other interesting name was Adrian Serioux. The big Scarborough defender is a free agent and perhaps his protected status speaks to TFC's interest in re-signing "The Predator".

The unprotected list seems to highlight two areas of flux in the TFC line-up. Under-achievers (both mentally and physically) and those making big money. The hinted at attitude issues surrounding Amado Guevara as well as his history with new manager Preki make his status a no-brainer. The fact that he is going to the World Cup and makes a good wage also means he could be an unlikely candidate for Philly.

Patience seems to have run thin with Gabe Gala while the on-field production of Ali Gerba and Pablo Vitti made them available for drafting as well. The inclusion of Carl Robinson is most likely a safe one for TFC as Union won't want to spend 300K plus on a veteran who may very well leave MLS if it meant leaving Toronto.

With remaining choices being "The Human Own-Goal" Nick Garcia and the unproven Lesly Fellinga there is a good chance that Philly ends up looking at The Reds' back-up keeper Brian Edwards. It would be a shame for TFC to lose Edwards as he is a very capable number two to obvious starter Stefan Frei. At a good wage and with a good deal of MLS experience, Edwards may prove tempting.

In the end, it will come down to Philly's approach at team-building. If they go for the slow build (Not a Mo Johnston 20 year slow build) then Edwards may be a good choice for the Blue and Gold. If however, the Union of the Snake wants to replicate a Seattle and aim high, then perhaps former MVP Amado Guevara is the big ticket they seek. Something tends to make us believe that a certain Preki wouldn't shed a tear if the mercurial Honduran was on the first flight to the City of Brotherly Love.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Editorial: MLS championship a "Real" joke

Imagine the headlines in Europe this past May if Major League Soccer ruled UEFA: "Man United 1st in Premiership - 8th Place Tottenham new Champions". "Palermo Wins Scudetto after coming in 8th - Inter look to next year". How come that kind of absurdity seems so ridiculous everywhere in football but is accepted as a justified reality in MLS?

Kudos to Real Salt Lake for knocking off one MLS favourite after another on the way to the title but is this what North American football fans really want? The need for a playoff structure in North America is seemingly necessary to attract fans late in the season but the result is one that insults true football fans.

When you look at this policy of playoffs, which has made the likes of Columbus and Houston mere footnotes in 2009, you realize that it is just part of the problem that truly keeps MLS on the outside of the world football community. The problem is that the league is still far too obsessed at reaching out to marketing demographics rather than the core football supporter. While it is true that the casual fan is necessary for financial purposes, they are also the most fair weather and likely to disappear.

The true football supporter is often overlooked in MLS's quest to corner the Volvo Mom demographic and it is to its own detriment. If you consider the football friendly changes made in the last few years such as more football-only stadiums, club names and kits that don't look like roller hockey and standardized FIFA rules, they have all complimented a fairly good product. On the other hand, MLS's history of "dumbing down" the sport have all been abysmal failures that didn't attract new fans and alienated true fans.

It is time for MLS to take some more steps towards full football legitimacy and the playoff structure should be one of the first moves. There are many different structures that could be implemented to move MLS closer in line with the rest of the world while keeping its North American necessities. In the end, it's the football that counts and RSL, a sub-.500 club, as MLS Champions is a poor showing for the league. Changes are needed, they just need to be done by football minds - not marketing ones.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Great ExPrektations

To paraphrase Preki during his first TFC press conference - "he didn't blow smoke up anyone's... butt". Forgive Toronto supporters for smiling at that idea as we've been having our butts smoke blown (oh grow up) for three years plus. Most of that smoke has been blown by the other man at the press conference table today but in one of his main off-season duties, Mo Johnston succeeded.

Yes, Preki has indeed been handed the keys to the jalopy and named as Toronto FC's new head coach on a three year deal. Unlike most new coaches though, the straight-talking Serbian seemed to call it like it is. There were no grand statements about "how great the team is already", now false admission that TFC is "really close to winning" and no promises that things would change overnight.

The only promise Preki would give is that the days of TFC's locker room being an easy place to be are over with him as boss. He was optimistic about changing the character of the team work and instilling a hard work ethic. If any of the current squad thinks they are exempt, Preki offered this invitation to his new team "are you in or are you out?" Based on this past season, some are definitely out.

Preki likes to build his teams from the back and touts the importance of strong no-nonsense defence. "Defence builds championships" the new boss said, adding that he will "organize from the back". When asked about the already wafer thin back line, the coach said "we are looking at a couple of players already".

As far as the current squad goes, it seems as if Preki will not suffer fools easily and laziness will be punished. He famously did that at Chivas USA when he felt Amado Guevara was too lazy which most TFC fans can commiserate with. On the topic of inheriting Guevara again, all Preki would say was "Guevara had a good year for Toronto". Chilly was the best way to describe this part of the conference.

In the end, Preki laid it on the line when saying TFC "does not have enough players to win." This is of course a much different message than the one Mo has been saying throughout 2009 so now we will see where the truth lies. Preki can be successful in Toronto but Mo Johnston has to do two things: get the coach the players he needs and then get completely out of the way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

THE WORD: Prek-tacular announcement soon?

The media reports are heating up that Mo Johnston, fresh of his Scottish Football Hall of Fame induction (insert joke here), will announce the signing of Preki (scientific name: Predrag Radosavljevic) as TFC's new manager. Sources are saying that negotiations are well under way and that an official announcement could come as early as Thursday.

There is no doubt that signing Preki would be considered a major coup for TFC's Scottish Lord so soon after the former MLS Coach of the Year's departure from Chivas USA. There is definitely surprise in these circles as many here thought that another no-name British coach are worse still Nick Dasovic/ Danny Dichio would be the likely outcome of Mo's search.

Mo seems to have been hit with the lucky stick on this one as he really didn't have to search hard at all nor make introductions. The two men have been teammates in MLS as well as England and no doubt have an existing relationship. What Mo will have to offer Preki to join TFC aka "Where coaching careers go to die", is another question.

Preki will not want to leave a situation where he had much control over personnel choices and line-ups to come to a worse team and be the puppet to a Director with itchy fingers. Preki will likely want a guaranteed establishment of powers such as a title of "Head Coach and Technical Director".

The one problem of that scenario is - suddenly Mo Johnston is the second smartest football man at MLSE. Will Mo be willing to put his neck on the line to acquire a coach that TFC desperately needs? For the sake of the club, supporters can hope that it's time we "deserve a Prek".


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time for De Ro to get the credit he is due

Yesterday, Toronto FC midfielder Dwayne De Rosario was named into this year's MLS Starting XI. It is the dynamic Scarborough native's fourth time on the year end honours and the third club he has done it with. Most notably, his appearance is the first for any TFC player.

While De Rosario is enough of a fan favourite, mostly from being local, it is fair to say that his star has yet to rise to high enough levels in Toronto. TFC without De Ro is a shockingly poor scenario. Where would this team have been this season with his 11 goals and game changing plays?

Expectations were indeed very high when De Ro arrived last winter and were perhaps too high. The midfielder has an abundance of talent but was often stymied by the lack of equal skill around him. The natural attacking midfielder was forced into scenarios where he had to shift to the wing or move far forward to compensate for Toronto's impotent strikers. The fact that he had to do so much heavy lifting actually caused him to be the target of criticism from some of BMO's less enlightened mob.

Hopefully this season's accolades will be enough to persuade The Reds' supporters to get behind De Ro more fervently than they did this year. He is after all a very rare commodity in today's professional game - a local boy who is not only the best on the team but one of the best in the league. It's time for De Ro to get the same treatment reserved for Danny Dichio. It's time to embrace the present and our best player in the club's history.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

THE WORD: All Day Prek-fest?

A surprising bit of rumour is making the rounds in the weekend papers that could possibly have some legs. Reports are linking the recently departed Chivas USA manager Preki to the vacancy on the Toronto FC bench.

The merit that this rumour has is that Preki, or Predrag Radosavljevic for our Serbian readers, was a long time teammate of Mo Johnston's at KC Wizards. Johnston seems to have a very limited network and often reaches out to ex-teammates and clients of his agent when jobs arise. A recent example of flying in a former comrade was this year's signing of veteran defensive stalwart Nick Garcia - and look how good that turned out!

Preki however, is no equivalent to Garcia. He is a quality MLS manager with a very good knowledge of the league. Here though lies the rub. Preki has been proven to be a tough manager who like to be in charge, something he would no doubt demand in any new bench boss role. If Mo Johnston thinks that because Preki was a former pal then he would in turn be happy to be the Scotsman's puppet, Mo will be wrong.

Preki famously fell out with TFC's Amado Guevara at Chivas and dispatched the petulant midfielder to Toronto without a second thought. He then quickly turned a poor Chivas team into a contender and was always the boss. With other rumoured job offers, such as an assistant on the USA Men's National Team, a TFC offer will have to give the former MLS Coach of the Year what he wants - to be fully in charge.

The question is, will Mo Johnston be willing to cut the puppet strings for the good of the team even if it means sticking his own neck out for once? Considering the TFC official site is mentioning Preki as a "candidate" means that there is some smoke to the fire.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

THE STARTING 11: MLS Playoff surprises

While we are no big fan of the playoff structure in MLS, it seems to be a necessary evil in a North American league for now. The 2009 MLS Playoffs have actually been quite good though with 3 out of the 4 teams who remain being deserving. Sometimes however, there are off the field occurrences which can be just as interesting...

11. Houston advance to Semi-Finals - Texan high school football gets better TV ratings

10. Rohan Ricketts is on trial to be a ball boy at the MLS Cup Final

9. Chivas USA claim they were thrown off by Beckham's homoerotic lumberjack beard

8. Dwayne De Rosario failed in attempt to dye his jersey from red back to orange

7. RSL called in religious "favours" from the Mormon Church - squad now has to convert

6. Steve Nicol blames loss on his uncontrollable laughter over rumours of him taking the Toronto FC job

5. Red Bulls still somehow lost despite not playing

4. Chad Barrett got a hat-trick... playing FIFA on X-BOX

3. Guillermo Schelotto is still laying on the ground

2. After Seattle's loss, Drew Carey found sad and drunk by the Plinko board

1. MLSE still claims that TFC has a "good shot" at the 2009 Playoffs

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Odds not good for quality new manager

Make no mistake - Mo Johnston needs to make more than a few good player acquisitions this winter in order to improve TFC. However, the decision that will have the deepest impact on The Reds will be who Johnston hires to manage the team. There are high expectations from the supporters but betting on a big name may not be smart.

There are a few serious warning signs to all prospective new managers. The football coaching fraternity is a small one and word of TFC's dysfunctional backroom will be legendary by now. Three managers in three seasons, a Director who seems to have too much control over the on-field decisions, a poor record of acquisitions and world-renowned penny pinching by the ownership hurts TFC as an attractive place to manage.

There are positives to taking a chance with The Reds, such as a half built squad, a good game-day atmosphere and a high level of media exposure (at least in MLS terms) but the negatives may be quite the hurdle for the top level candidates to overcome. We take a look now at some of our odds on the type of possible new managers:

Very little chance of an established international manager at Toronto. The simple stumbling block would be cost. MLSE has a tradition of hiring the lowest cost coach available and will not be willing to spend big money on a big name that the Board has never heard of. Not necessarily a bad thing though - remember Ruud Gullit in Los Angeles?

The fans' choice right now would be Steve Nicol of New England with others like Canada's own Frank Yallop getting talked up as well. The reason these kinds of managers will be wary of Toronto is simple. They are strong men who like to be in charge and will not want to be told what to do through the puppet master style of Mo Johnston. A manager like Nicol will want a level of control over personnel that Johnston won't hand over - it would put his job on the line far too easily. Johnston wants to be the only brain in town.

Unfortunately the most experienced MLS assistant Paul Mariner, formerly of New England, has returned to England but there are still some experienced men out there who are looking for their first chance at being in charge. MLSE may balk at this route as they would likely have to pay compensation to the club that any assistant is currently employed with.

This is an area where Mo will likely centre his primary search. There are a few names circulating the North American landscape with the most recent being DC United's recently departed Tom Soehn. The price on an ex-MLS manager would be right and Mo could trumpet their experience but there is usually a reason they are unemployed. A good manager could be persuaded to take little money in order to get back in the game but Toronto's "Manager Pit" reputation will alarm the best possibilities.

Perhaps the reason Mo is putting a February deadline on a new hiring is so he can see who is fired from England's League One or Two and/or Scotland's First Division. Mo loves these kinds of managers and would love to proclaim the great experience the new man had with his time at Luton/ Swindon/ Lincoln/ Grimsby/ Dundee/ Queen of the South/ (insert your favourite lower league club here). Also, easily fired a year later (see Carver and Cummins).

Who can't see this coming? After a long "exhaustive" search, Mo will suddenly proclaim that the best men for the job are already here. Nick Dasovic will be proclaimed as a "great, young Canadian coach" with North American experience while Danny Dichio will be the tonic to placate the sheep in the crowd who expected better but will still have an excuse to sing "The Dichio Song". No mention will be made of the bargain basement price and the eerie similarities to the Raptors' promotion of under-qualified Canadian Jay Triano. Dasovic will end up being Scapegoat # 3 and Dichio will take his place as "Toronto's Kevin Keegan".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

THE STARTING 11: Least popular new GolTV programs

One of the more quiet acquisitions that MLSE made this summer was a controlling stake in the football specialty channel GolTV. The purchase may be the first step towards making a TFC TV channel but of course that means MLSE will need to create a full line-up of programming. As with any network, not all of the shows can be big hits - such as...

11. Late Night With Sam Cronin

10. Supporters Group Karaoke Sing-A-Long Show

9. The Food Building Chronicles With Collin Samuel & Ali Gerba

8. Relaxin’ With Ricketts

7. Straight Talk With Mo Johnston

6. Survivor: Head Coach

5. Amado Guevara Reads The News

4. The Happy Time Fun Kid's Hour With Adrian Serioux

3. Are You Smarter Than A Chad Barrett?

2. Pullin' Groins With Paul Winsper


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Culture of failure starts higher than Mo

It seemed astonishing when Mo Johnston recently claimed to be shocked by the level of criticism that he was receiving after TFC's recent failure. Was the wily Glaswegian watching the same team the supporters were? Why the shock on Mo's part?

It should be no surprise however when you look at the acceptance of mediocrity that comes from places higher in the organization. In interviews this week, MLSE VP Tom Anselmi was going to great lengths to back Mo's work as TFC's Director of Football. Anselmi also used the thinnest margin of improvement to claim that progress was made in 2009. While the team did manage to secure a few more points, "progress" is a generous term.

While discussing Johnston's apparently amazing job, Anselmi outlined the Director's responsibilities which include - “providing overall leadership and vision, putting the roster together, (and) to build infrastructure (i.e. coaching and scouting)". To those jobs, Anselmi claimed "... I think Mo has done a good job." If he is true to his word, then Anselmi must have a fairly low bar for success.

Johnston has provided very little public leadership and only appears in times of absolute crisis or when he can receive kudos. His vision is unclear and confusing with constant roster changes the norm. His ability to put together a balanced roster is very poor considering he has not found a solid back line, an established striker or capable wingers in nearly four years. As far as infrastructure goes, TFC has an academy which is fine, even though MLS doesn't yet allow the ownership of local players without the draft, but scouting is an absolute disgrace. It is only Mo and one other staff member doing scouting (despite annual Brazilian holidays) with the majority of newly signed players being on the roster of Mo's own agent.

In an interview with CBC, Anselmi was waxing about how TFC was "so close" this year. So close to what though? A playoff spot? Is that the pinnacle of expectation at TFC? Shouldn't the goal of every pre-season be winning the Cup? According to Anselmi's CBC interview “our expectation was to not make the playoffs the first three years. We didn't think we would." The VP continued that the "100 per cent focus" of 2010 is making the playoffs. Sorry… we thought that was 2009's focus.

What do we really expect from the corporate entity which brings us other success stories such as the Leafs and the Raptors though? MLSE is a business where profits are paramount and trophies are a nice but unnecessary bonus which can then be used for marketing. If Mo's boss has such low expectations then it is fair to see why Mo himself is "shocked" at the criticism. The sorry thing is though, if MLSE aims low, and Mo does too, doesn't the TFC head coach and then the players, staff and all the way down to the academy aim low as well? As much as Johnston is truly at fault, the rot starts way at the top and spreads down through every inch of the club.