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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cooler heads agree to keep negotiating new MLS agreement

------------------"I once bargained an agreement thiiiis big!"

Signs of intelligent life indeed exist within the ranks of Major League Soccer's ownership and players' union. The two sides today have agreed to continue negotiating on a new collective bargaining agreement until at least February 12th. Obviously someone in New York got a text that said "Yo Don - dont lockout MLS - U R not NFL dude! LOL" or something along those lines.

In a straightforward but slightly optimistic press release from MLS headquarters, commissioner Don Garber laid out the current state of negotiations. “While we still have areas of disagreement, the talks have been constructive and both parties believe it makes sense to continue to work hard to reach agreement. This extension provides both MLS and the players the opportunity to continue our discussions while clubs are in training camps preparing for the 2010 MLS season.”

Credit is due on both sides for at least having the foresight not to delay training camps and hopefully the 2010 season. As stated here and throughout most of the MLS observing world - a shutdown could be a damaging, if not fatal, blow to the young league. This extension is at the least a promising sign that the two sides are finding some common ground and will work towards a resolution. 2010 is far too important a year for MLS without wasting time on legal mumbo-jumbo.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

THE STARTING 11: Surprises for Toronto FC trialists

Much like the corn sprouts in the summer, January means Farmer Mo is out harvesting his crop of trialists for TFC training camp. The supporters get excited over the possibilities like Jorge Andrade and Ibrahim Said even if past crops such as Kiki Musampa withered in the Florida sun. The anticipation is on both sides however, the trialists themselves usually come to Toronto with little knowledge of the city or the club. The trialist may be surprised by some of their experiences...

11. Have to wake up at 5AM to fluff Julian De Guzman's hair

10. Predrag "Preki" Radosavljevic spelling bee at the end of each day

9. Must try to steal Trillium Cup from Columbus in 1980's comedy film fashion

8. Must bring the Timbits to practice

7. Trialists must share drive to Florida in an MLSE-rented 1976 Oldsmobile

6. Get to stay in luxury basement apartment in beautiful downtown Oshawa

5. Met at airport by Rohan Ricketts - not an official team rep, just working as a cabbie

4. Free Laurent Robert jersey with every trial!

3. If late for lunch, Ali Gerba shrugs mysteriously at your empty plate

2. Have to read "The Little Engine That Could" to Chad Barrett every bedtime

1. Have to carry Mo Johnston around in bejewelled medieval carriage

Monday, January 25, 2010

THE WORD: TFC to trial Jorge Andrade - College Street holds its breath

----------------------------"Do I look good in red?"

Rumours are swirling around the big smoke today that Toronto FC are willing to offer a trial to former Portuguese international defender Jorge Andrade. The hulking 31 year old, 6-Foot central defender has had a very solid career with Porto, Deportivo La Coruna and most recently Juventus but had his success cut short by a crippling knee injury. The Italian club cut Andrade loose after his most recent injury woes and the Lisbon native has been searching for a club ever since.

If the opportunity is indeed true, Andrade would come to Toronto for a physical and if his knee is sound he would be offered a trial at The Reds' training camp. It is a no-risk move for Mo Johnston and his staff with the slim possibility of being a coup. If Andrade could prove healthy and find form even close to what he showed at Deportivo La Coruna (where he played along side Julian De Guzman) he could be a major help to TFC's Swiss Cheese back line.

For Andrade, TFC and MLS is about the highest level proving ground he could find right now and he would play in a city where he could be a potential idol. If he could become a TFC regular, Toronto's massive Portuguese community, especially the Porto supporters, would embrace him like a fat kid on a chorizo. Andrade is a long shot as of right now, but if there is truth to this possibility it has the potential to be mutually beneficial to TFC and the man from Lisbon.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

TFC acquires a body

Mo Johnston did the improbable but necessary today by adding some much needed depth to the Toronto FC squad. TFC brings in midfield utility player Jacob Peterson from Colorado Rapids in exchange for the mystery which is allocation money. The 23 year old American made 23 appearances for Rapids in 2009 scoring 2 goals and grabbing 2 assists in 12 starts for the Maroons.

Always happy to paint a signing as the next coming of Christ, Mo Johnston crowed that "this is a player that Preki has been wanting for some time". If Peterson, who had stints with the US under-23 squad, can at least provide some good minutes off of the bench he will be more useful than what The Reds' currently have. If he can push for starting time all the better.

While a midfielder isn't exactly on the top of TFC's wishlist right now, depth is always a good thing. There have been rumours that TFC are looking at Egyptian defender/ bad egg on every team he's played for Ibrahim Said but no concrete word yet from BMO Field. If the impending labour trouble in MLS comes to a head on January 31st, Peterson will be the last signing we are likely to see until the lockout is resolved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THE STARTING 11: Ways to survive an MLS lockout

In a little more than a week Major League Soccer and its clubs may take the foolish step of locking out its players. Negotiations on a new CBA are continuing between the league and the players' union but things haven't been too positive yet. If there is a lockout, it could mean a lengthy delay to the 2010 MLS season. The question then becomes - what do supporters do if there's no football?

11. Ask your boss to loan you out to the company's European office

10. Randomly hold up lit flares in crowds

9. Go to church on Sundays... but only for the singing and chanting

8. Drink a case of Red Bull - run naked through your neighbourhood screaming "Call me Juan Pablo!!!"

7. Spray paint stray cats - start your own MLS in backyard

6. Go to supermarket - demand produce manager to "raise the celery cap!"

5. Go to local kids' soccer games - throw streamers at 10 year olds

4. Demand that in the bedroom you are only referred to as "The Designated Player"

3. Start giving your co-workers Brazilian shirt names

2. Ask soccer-moms if they "wanna come over and watch you play"

1. Only drink $9 dollar beers

Monday, January 18, 2010

Editorial: No winners in potential MLS lockout

--------------------"I wonder if Portsmouth got my resume?"

In just under two weeks from now, there is a good possibility that Major League Soccer and its clubs will formally lockout their players. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on January 31st and without a new deal, the ownership and league will likely take the lockout route. While negotiations between MLS and the players' union have been ongoing there has been little in the way of positive news. If the inevitable does become reality, all sides would end up injured - possibly very badly.

The ownership and the league are practically one entity within MLS and are bargaining from the same side. Despite many advances in the last decade, the majority of MLS clubs are still operating at a loss. The individual owners thus would like to see the continuation of very strict control over player wages in order to preserve what they see as the only route to their financial stability. Preserving the status quo would likely please most of the clubs for now.

However, an extended lockout into the regular season could completely blow up in the clubs' faces and the effects could be fatal for more than a few teams. Outside of Toronto, Seattle and DC it is fair to say that the average MLS stadium is only full with about 30% of ardent, die-hard supporters. The rest of the crowd are your casual, suburban "soccer-mom" crowd who will quickly forget that their local club exists. If the long established, traditional American Major League Baseball took an attendance hit after their lockout, you can imagine how the 5th place professional league would suffer. In addition, newcomers Philadelphia Union and the revamped New York Red Bulls (with their new park) may see their massive investments and any momentum lost for good.

On the other side of the table, the players are fighting to gain some respectability and clout especially in the areas of wages and control over their movement within MLS. The league's players for the most part are not making a fair wage in comparison with their International counterparts and their restricted movement due to the league's single entity ownership is definitely unfair but is a remaining after-effect of the league's fear of an NASL spend-crazy meltdown. There is definitely wiggle room in this area but since FIFA officials decided to stay out of the league's labour affairs, the player's union doesn't seem to have much in the way of support.

The stars of the league have much less to worry about in the event of a season disruption. Their wages are somewhat in line with what they could make elsewhere and the DP situation seems to be working, if not a little under utilized. However, the majority of the players deserve more money and an increase to the league's salary cap would help. Sadly for about 60 - 70% of the players, there are few options for them in other leagues and MLS knows this and will bargain against it. The point where some of the league's "star" players may get their noses out of joint is when their lack of play starts to affect their chances of being picked to go this summer's World Cup.

That very World Cup in South Africa is one of the biggest potential missed opportunities for MLS in the event of a lockout. Whenever the World Cup is played, interest in the game soars briefly in the USA. It is a once every four years chance for MLS to capitalize on "soccer fever" - missing 2010 puts the league way back for the next half decade. Even if there is a short lockout, the league's plans to halt play during the World Cup may have to be ditched in order to make-up lost time on the schedule. MLS must think hard whether this opportunity and the other momentum the league had managed to create is worth the risk to continuing the status quo financial growth of the league. Finding this balance is Don Garber's biggest challenge as MLS Commissioner.

There is a fear in some circles that MLS and the players are getting too big for their britches in seeing themselves as a "major league" in comparison to the NFL, NBA or MLB. Make no mistake, as much as supporters love the league, it is not on par with those established leagues and a serious lockout could be a major blow - if not a fatal one. MLS has been North America's best run football league and has provided the continent's fans their best shot at a "real" football league. After so much groundwork it would be horrible to have to see a new league rise from its ashes - likely run by more Nike-esque "soccer clowns". Unless the English Premier League is looking to do a reverse World League of American Football with an EPL USA, football supporters in North America should hope that cooler heads prevail. And sooner.... rather than later.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

No Mo-gician at SuperDraft

-------------------------------Hark, it's Herold.

Either Mo Johnston has got a lot of irons in the fire or TFC supporters are seeing piece # 1 in “The All-New and Improved Mo Johnston 10 Year Plan”. Mo, not unsurprisingly, was unable to make any moves to grab a first round pick and had to settle for the lowly 24th and 53rd picks. That in itself is fair enough. If there were no deals to be had you cannot fault Johnston for that. His pick in the 24th slot however creates more questions than it does answers.

Mo opted to draft 17 year old defender Zachary Herold out of the USA under-17 program rather than take an older, more MLS ready prospect. A teenage defender is usually at least two or three years away from being first team ready so this pick is definitely for long term team building and not for the near future. With that being the case, it now falls to Mo Johnston's ability to bring in transfer targets to fill the gaping holes in TFC's 2010 line-up. As we have said before, Mo's player acquisitions have been mediocre overall and many fans will be miffed if come opening day TFC looks like it did on the last day of 2009. With the transfer window now open, we will know soon if he is successful.

The rest of the SuperDraft (how a draft becomes a SuperDraft is a mystery) was an interesting affair. TFC's later pick was 22 year old midfielder Nane Joseph from Old Dominion - that's a college not a former supermarket. We will likely never see Joseph in a match. Local favourite and hopefully future Canadian National Team player Teal Bunbury went to Kansas City while new boys Philadelphia Union used the first overall pick to draft standout forward Danny Mwanga from Oregon State.

Clint Mathis returned to LA Galaxy in a draft day trade with Real Salt Lake and what seemed like hundreds of Wake Forest players were distributed around the league. Kudos to Columbus Crew for upping the comedy value of the first round by drafting Dilly Duka and Bright Dike. Supporters around MLS thank you for future songs and chants. Welcome draft class of 2010 to Major League Soccer - enjoy your lockout.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TFC hopes for miracle (Mo)ves at draft

While on his way to Philadelphia to attend this year's SuperDraft, TFC Director of Football Mo Johnston will likely be stopping by a leper colony to do some healing as well as turning some water into wine on the flight. That is the level of miracle many TFC supporters are expecting before the draft begins as hopes are high that the ever humble Scot will be able to deal for a high pick. With little in the way of trade worthy assets and only a pair of low picks in his pocket, the lepers best wait until next year.

Johnston's ability to swing a deal will define the rest of his off season in regards to player acquisitions. New manager Preki is not towing the company line that TFC is "close" to being a good team and has been vocal about the need to fill glaring holes. Mo Johnston's slightly overrated history at the draft has been his favoured route to team building but with only the two low round picks, TFC's gaps are unlikely to be filled in Philadelphia tomorrow.

Johnston would love to get his hands on a high first round pick with the likely target being Canadian striker Teal Bunbury but he has so little to offer in the way of trades. Names being thrown around the rumour mill include Carl Robinson, Marvell Wynne, Stefan Frei and Chad Barrett but none of those players will be enough alone to secure a high first rounder. Also, with a fairly thin roster, Toronto can't really afford to be shipping out that many players without receiving more in return.

The odds are higher right now that Mo may just have to suffer through drafting low this year while hoping for a diamond in the rough. Sadly, TFC will not find a starter in the Second Round and beyond. This would mean supporters having to have faith in Mo's ability to actually purchase quality on the open market. With the international transfer market only open for a little while longer, true quality players (not trialists or low division UK cast-offs) may not be headed to TFC in time for the beginning of the season.

Perhaps Johnston may still have a miracle left, and with his spotty track record of player acquisitions outside of the draft - supporters best hope so. If not, maybe Mo can change fish and loaves into two defenders, two wingers and a striker.

Monday, January 11, 2010

THE WORD: Mo looking to s-Teal Bunbury

------------------------------Like father, like son?

Mo Johnston must have the shakes and the cold sweats right now. The Scot has many detractors but those who do back him use his record in the MLS SuperDraft as a defence. However, with a few days to go before the 2010 draft, where he is supposed to show his wily eye for talent, Johnston and his TFC "backroom" (about two guys and a some NCAA DVD's) do not have a first round pick and only a couple of late choices at their disposal.

To say that Mo's team building and player acquisitions while at TFC have left some fans wanting is generous. Even with last season’s additions of De Rosario and De Guzman, Toronto FC is a lop-sided squad with far too many holes for Year Four of the “Mo Johnston Five Year Plan”. With no other major signings even floating on the rumour mill, the SuperDraft would seem like the likely place for Mo to look to fill those holes... albeit on the cheap.

Mo's history at the draft, and the lack of picks are causing the rumours to swirl that he is actively shopping around the league to secure a first rounder. The apparent apple of TFC's eye is Teal Bunbury the NCAA's player of the year and son of former Team Canada striker Alex Bunbury. Sadly, Bunbury will be on most MLS club's radars after a stand-out season at Akron and will likely be a hot commodity. If he scores like his father, TFC could sure use him. Remember Vic Rauter calling a Canadian match? "BUUUUUUUUNNN-Bury!!!!"

The other aspect which will hamper Mo is his lack of assets. He has few players that he'd be willing to part with that have any value. The names being mentioned by those close to the league are Chad Barrett and Carl Robinson but would the San Joses of the world really be willing to give up a high first rounder for either player? Barrett seems extremely unlikely as most teams like strikers who score and there are a lot of questions about Robinson's future in North America if he is jettisoned from Toronto.

In the end, Mo may have to deal with the lower picks and be forced to do the unthinkable - sign players from other teams! Shock! If Johnston can't get quality from the draft and fails (yet again) in filling the team’s holes through transfers, how will his defenders be able to back him this time around?


Friday, January 8, 2010

THE STARTING 11: MLS side effects during the economic downturn

Most of the industrialized world has been in the grip of a harsh recession for the last couple of years and things aren't turning around yet. Jobs have been lost, people are losing their homes ... no one will pay Portsmouth FC's player's wages - the horror of it all! Well, Major League Soccer itself is far from immune. Many of the league's clubs still don't turn a profit and there may be a bad labour dispute only weeks away. However, there are some other harsh realities MLS has had to cope with during the recession...

11. MLS Super Draft 2010 to choose from pool of unemployed auto workers

10. All players in the league to live in Beckham's house while he's in Milan

9. Don Garber's going to Vegas - betting the Wizards on red

8. Chad Barrett to stop scoring in order to preserve shoe leather (DONE)

7. Drew Carey no longer allowed near Sounders' team buffet

6. MLS Cup seen in window of Utah pawn shop

5. Colorado to play in front of empty stadium to conserve energy (DONE)

4. Preki forced to shorten his name even further

3. One of the construction workers on Columbus Crew's logo laid off

2. DP's replaced by adorable soccer playing Golden Retrievers a la "Air Bud: World Pup"

1. Arab sheiks to buy other Los Angeles club: Chivas UAE to play next season

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

BMOspotting: A natural field guide of the supporter species

Around the holiday season, television is full of long in-depth documentaries about the natural world. You know the type - some David Attenborough wannabe hiding in the bushes while chimps smell their hindquarters in the distance. Gripping monkey action.

Well as a post-holiday treat we bring you another hard-hitting, likely award winning, up close and personal look at the wildlife that lives within the dangerous confines of BMO Field's terraces. For those of you who are nature buffs or for brave souls who may venture to the Lakeshore Jungle for the first time in 2010 - feel free to carry around this handy guide so you too can be a BMOspotter.

THE VETERANS (Veterelder Futbolis)
The sage and noble elder of the terraces can be seen dressed in a genteel manner and usually watch matches in small groups of three to four. Their grey haired heads can often be seen nodding wisely in a manner that denotes having seen most of what football has had to offer over the years. While no longer the loudest in the jungle, ancient memories of their past lives in windswept stadia across Europe often return with a loud cry of "Wanker!" at a passing referee.
ORIGINAL SPECIES: Liverpool, Rangers, Benfica

FOOLIGANS (Mimicus Millwallis)
This young brash brood roam the corners of the BMO jungle in the quest to be the dominant force among the crowd. While small in number they are often the most vocal of creatures known for their attempt at mimicry of the extinct 1970's European hooligan. While few have stepped into an actual European stadium, and fewer still were around in the 1970's, their love for wearing red kits (non-TFC) and boastful power drinking give them a self assured air of authority despite the fact that they would likely burst into tears if faced with a real "firm" from the bad old days.
ORIGINAL SPECIES: Manchester United, Arsenal, AC Milan

NEWLIGANS (Trendulus Uefas)
While the above mentioned Fooligan may be brash, there is usually some sort of heritage and staying power in the species. The Newligan however, is the younger hybrid in the supporter genus. Very new to the sport, they have taken the colours and plumage of a current glamour team in order to fit in amongst the more established members of the jungle. Famous for joining in chants with affected accents (and knowing some of the words) and also for having "a few" favourite teams.
ORIGINAL SPECIES: Chelsea, Real Madrid, the current Champions League Winner

THE MISERY CASUALS (Negativum Doldrums)
This odd breed of supporter is usually scattered amongst the other species without purpose. Their dress is often casual and harkens back to the "hard man era" of British football but they are more noticeable by the look of despair on their faces. Many have strong ties to a club that has highly underachieved or has given them expectancy for the mediocre. No matter the score, the misery casual will likely be complaining or shaking their heads while expecting TFC to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
ORIGINAL SPECIES: Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Lazio

EUROPOSEURS (Supremus Continentei)
You will never find this species wearing the colours of Toronto FC. Seemingly uninterested in the product on the pitch, the Europoseur would rather wax lyrically from behind a set of designer wraparound sunglasses. No matter how good the local team plays this well coiffed creature will crow loudly to all around that it's "not as good as" whatever European league they watch a handful of times a year. Their knowledge of the sport is usually illustrated by such insightful proclamations as "These guys should sign Vieri - then they'd be less sh*t!"
ORIGINAL SPECIES: Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona

THE PROFESSORS (Analysticus Fifax)
This strange breed of well-versed supporters usually travel in pairs and sit serenely if not quietly while combing over every pass with a fine tooth comb. When not attending BMO Field they can be found awake late at night watching Japanese League highlight shows or the Oceania Club Championship on a specialty channel. They have fantastic memories, especially for obscure players and clubs in far flung places - mostly from their hours spent playing Football Manager. They have seen TFC win the MLS Cup many times... on their computer.
ORIGINAL SPECIES: Ajax, Fulham, Bayer Leverkusen

SUPER SOCCERERS! (Maternus Minivanis)
This large roaming breed always travels in large packs and carries enough rations to last through a season. The elders never roam far from their young who are often the most aggravating to all other species in the BMO jungle. With their high-pitched screams, flapping of novelty noise-makers and low attention spans they are the species most likely to be growled at by others. The elder of the species can be spotted by its constant handheld natural tool, aka Blackberry, and by the constant checking of their watch. At there most vocal an elder may be heard to say "C'mon FC's!!!" in a slightly raised tone.
ORIGINAL SPECIES: David Beckham's current club, Canadian Women's Team, their child's team

So there you have it nature lovers. There are of course many various breeds who roam the plains along Lake Ontario so be sure to take your binoculars, this handy guide and maybe a blow-dart. Chip Buttys are also good - they seem to like those. Happy hunting in 2010!