The most unsuccessful franchise in North American sport decided on Thursday to give an expansive demonstration of how they achieve success.
Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko advertised it as a privileged look inside the team's "methodology and pedagogy." In retrospect, this was the point at which I should've thrown a chair through a window and jumped to freedom or my death. Either would've been okay.
For a solid two hours, we were drilled with charts, graphs, diagrams and endless lists of words that sound bold and decisive and mean nothing. Words like "innovation" and "collaboration."
When someone starts going on about innovation, my hand moves protectively to my jacket pocket. I know I'm about to get fleeced.
The two key speakers were the club's director of sports science, Jim Liston, and its director of cognitive development, Michael Rabasca. They said many learned things with enormous confidence, only a small fraction of which seemed to have anything to do with the winning of soccer games.
The presentation is the same one that's done internally – and here I cross myself and say a small prayer for anyone who had to sit through this numbing corporate bafflegab twice. It gave you some small sense of why this team is so consistently adrift. The boat is taking on water, and everyone's up on deck debating which colour emergency flare to fire off.
Two moments stand out.
The first was when someone claimed that they had isolated a method to "measure grit." If this was a joke, no one laughed.
The metrics movement is fast becoming a warm, moist place hiding all sorts of opportunists looking to gull the rich, desperate people who own sports teams. But if someone in MLSE actually believes that, I'd love to sit in on the experiments. Exactly how many times do you have to be punched in the head before you are 'gritty'?
After 90 minutes, I had a bad case of the nods. I'm not sure who was speaking, but I wished he would stop for a second so that I could volunteer to sign my confession.
Then this was said out loud: "Anyone familiar with Myelin?"
(The guy sitting beside me muttered, "Anyone familiar with boredom?")
No, I'm not familiar with Myelin. I'm pretty sure that if you force me to become familiar with it, I'm going to forget a more useful piece of information – like where I parked my car.
That didn't stop anybody. For the next five minutes, we discussed neural pathways and electrical conductivity in the human body. That must have been the secret to Pele's success – he was pulsating with electricity.
We were lectured on personal training portals, and trust exercises, and growth mindsets, and neurology, and "core values" and … God, it just went on like that forever.
This wasn't in connection with the senior team. It was largely focused on the 150 players in TFC's youth academy. This was a discussion about 12-year-olds.
Toronto FC has never been in a playoff game. It's had nine head coaches in eight seasons. The last one spent half a season at war with the general manager and had to be tied up in a bag and thrown off deck in the middle of the night. The team's best player is AWOL and will never come back.
But we're sitting around talking about the optimal sleep patterns for 13-year-olds who, odds very strongly suggest, will never play professional soccer.
This is not to suggest the academy and player development don't matter. The future should be a consideration, but never at the expense of the present. This isn't an NGO. People don't pay good money to watch the future.
So when the present continues to be an absolute goon show, it may not be smart to be invite strangers to sit down cross-legged in your circle of trust and listen in while you moon on about how awesome this will all be in 10 years.
It finally ended. There was a moment's pause while everyone rebooted their internal hard drive from sleep mode.
The first question boiled down to, 'How confident are you that, if you're fired tomorrow, any of this will outlast you?' "We don't know," Bezbatchenko said brightly.
I need about 300 more words to flesh out this column.
Poetically, a long string of random numbers and letters signalling that I've spent that space smashing my face into the keyboard would work best. But there's a very specific line about that in my contract.
Eventually, we worked our way back to the only thing that matters – the team they have right now, regardless of its conductivity.
On that front, there weren't any satisfactory answers. A talk that had been microscopically specific now became galactically vague. Neither is of any use.
We all know striker Jermain Defoe is never coming back to Canada. Never. Never ever. But we continue to pretend that, you know, maybe.
What's the plan?
"We're planning to have him on the team," Bezbatchenko said. "If he happens not to be here, we also have a plan."
Does the team have a plan for Lionel Messi not being here as well, because I'm feeling only slightly less confident about one?
Are you actively seeking someone to replace Defoe?
"We have names," Bezbatchenko said. "We are actively vetting those names. We're watching film on those names. We're speaking to clubs about the names on that list."
Wouldn't it be easier to just say, "Yes."
But apparently, nothing simple can ever be said at this club. We're beyond forests for trees. These guys have become so focused on the details, they're slowly going blind. They've lost sight of their one and only concern – winning right now.
As yet, we have no clue what they're doing on that front.
"The football world moves very fast," head coach Greg Vanney said by way of summation.
Not here it doesn't.