Over its nearly nine years in operation, Toronto FC has done one thing well: press conferences.
Oh, the times we've had at TFC pressers. All the yelling, angst and promises of salvation. They're like tent revivals, but with better catering.
This organization has hosted more funeral orations than the average graveyard. Someone notable is always leaving, usually before they've had time to get their corporate parking pass but long after they've lost their minds.
For eight wretched seasons, the games have been reliably dreadful bores, but once that e-mail lands in your in-box – "Media availability tomorrow at (blank)" – clear the decks, man. You're about to have some fun.
On Sunday, Toronto FC debuted something new it's suddenly good at: maximalist architecture.
The addition of a new stand was supposed to turn BMO Field – in recent tradition, the place Canada goes to surrender to Americans – into a civic gladiator ring.
It amounts to 8,400 additional seats, pushing capacity to more than 30,000. God love them. Only Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment looks at a franchise that has been the most reliable gong show in North American sport and thinks, "You know what this disaster needs? More witnesses."
For a solid week they debuted the expansion as if they'd just completed the Taj Mahal. Instead, it looks like something Stalin would've planted in Leipzig as a warning to the local populace.
I suppose it is imposing, especially if you're trying to climb up there. Forget scarves. Anyone who buys a seat up in the new nosebleeds should receive a team-branded rappelling rope.
The announced crowd fell only a few hundred short of a sellout, but the new stand was about two-thirds full throughout the game.
Despite a last-minute rush to get everything finished, there was still some concern about railings and exit capacity up top. When you're sitting 10 storeys above the parking lot, railings and exits are the third- and fourth-most important things in your life (gravity and structural integrity being the first two).
This didn't explain many hundreds of empty seats throughout the rest of the stadium. Apparently, a bunch of opening-day ticket holders had the choice between turning Mother's Day brunch into a 10-hour rager and going to watch the Toronto brand of soccer. They made the right decision.
Facing a middling Houston team, Toronto came out so flat they were not visible in three dimensions. The turgid first half took the crowd out of it entirely.
As the first period ended, captain Michael Bradley went to ground in his own area – a Soccer Tactics 101 no-no – drawing a penalty. In perfect keeping with everything that's ever happened on this cursed ground, Houston's Oscar Garcia pooched his first effort (crowd roars), then scored his own rebound (crowd gives up again).
Near the end of the intermission, the poor lady who works the elevator at games asked, "Is the half coming up soon?"
By virtue of enforced ignorance, she is the luckiest employee of Toronto FC.
Toronto went to panic stations to begin the second half. They were almost immediately burned on the counter.
As they tend to do in situations like this, Toronto woke up long after the alarm had gone off. They pulled one back with a quarter-hour remaining. Then they pressed uselessly against Houston, like a kid being held at arm's length by his big brother. It ended 2-1.
The one good thing about another loss? Another post-loss press conference!
The thing that really drives people nuts about this team is its compulsive inability to throw its hands up and say, "We blew that one."
In fairness, once they started, they'd be doing it so often that everyone on the staff would have dislocated shoulders. But it's no excuse.
"No excuses" was how head coach Greg Vanney started his presser. Your next move is to kick over the mic and leave the room. But Vanney kept talking.
"Today, we were way too passive. For us, that's a lesson in how we're going to win at home."
Well, by that logic, losing isn't losing. It's the necessary precursor to winning.
It isn't. Losing is the leading indicator of future losing. No team (aside from every other team in Toronto) has proved the point better than this one.
Asked to summarize his postgame team talk, Vanney said: "Our overall … I don't want to say 'effort' … just our mentality to be here first and foremost for the competition and the competitive side of it, we need to be more proactive."
No wonder these guys look lethargic bordering on anemic for the first 30 minutes of every game. They're getting the coaching equivalent of a four-hour PowerPoint presentation at a reinsurance seminar.
How about asking them to play in a manner commensurate with their paycheques? On Sunday, all three of Toronto's designated players – about $20-million in annual wages – were repeatedly shown up by Houston's Giles Barnes. Barnes makes $250,000 (U.S.).
Where's that guy – low cost, high return – on the Toronto FC roster? Have they ever had one of those guys? Even one? They have not.
Someone tossed a question up at Vanney about the new stadium – the interrogation equivalent of pushing a pack of smokes across the table.
"The experience – apart from the result – was amazing."
Yes. Apart from the result. Which is like saying, "The train ride – apart from the fiery derailment – was lovely."
It's too easy to blame Vanney. He's the guy they shove up against the martyr's post every week to get pincushioned with metaphoric arrows. The problem runs far deeper.
Over those nine years of scintillating press conferences, Toronto FC has convinced itself that talking is the same as doing. Better, even.
They spend all their time talking about stadiums and academies and signings and global scouting nets and partnerships and hybrid grass and the damned food on offer.
Instead, how about winning a few? Until that happens, they might limit themselves to one sort of promise: a vow of silence.