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Toronto FC fans cheer on their team during a game against New York at BMO Field in Toronto, June 6, 2007. (J.P. MOCZULSKI)
Toronto FC fans cheer on their team during a game against New York at BMO Field in Toronto, June 6, 2007. (J.P. MOCZULSKI)

Paul James

TFC supporters won't stand for failure forever Add to ...

Three years ago, Richard Peddie gave a keynote speech at a York University sponsored sports conference. The president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment talked of the company's property, Toronto FC, and proudly described the newest MLS franchise as an "out of the park home run." Difficult to argue with him there. Even now, three years on, all is well and profitable with TFC. Now if only the same could be said on the playing side.

Failing to make the playoffs for the third consecutive year has to be a massive disappointment for the loyal, dedicated fan base that has formed around the team. While one may point to some good fortune for the successful circumstances of Toronto FC the business, the MLSE executives know this is not the case. Investing in profitless ventures is not a habit they subscribe to and so only after careful research do they make decisions to move ahead.

It will now be interesting to note whether the MLSE research team paid attention to the caveat that is a part of all global football tribes.

Lack of on-field success, ineptness in leadership, and overall poor technical quality of your team are met with derision and activism, not just strong opinion. To put things in perspective here, MLSE's Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fans, when viewed from the global soccer environment, do not make sense. Win or lose, nothing changes. Fans just keep coming back like they are doomed to the addiction. Not the case with soccer fans.

At Manchester United, there are protests; at Real Madrid, there are membership coups. At other less prominent teams, supporters simply make their point through disappearance in the stands.

On the North American soccer landscape ,Toronto is correctly considered a sophisticated, intelligent soccer market. This has so far worked well for the MLSE brass. Patience in soccer fans, though, is very limited and especially if they get the feeling they are being treated like mugs. Therefore the whole organization, which appears to have the skin of shrimps when it comes to criticism, should prepare themselves for an onslaught. The nice stadium, thoughtful food offerings, and beer tents are all well and good. But to fuel the enthusiastic, passionate atmosphere that has been the talk of the town for the past three years, you have to begin to produce on the field.

Saturday's brutally inept display, losing 5-0 to the bottom team in the league, the New York Red Bulls, would in England be ridiculed as something from The Muppet Show. If MLSE has any sense, it needs to view this particular performance as the nadir for TFC. Competent changes are required, although herein lies the conundrum. How do you correct something when you really do not know your stuff?

Blame for the fiasco can be apportioned to the players, to the coach and more pertinently to manager Mo Johnston but, really, the buck has to stop somewhere and that somewhere is the MLSE executive: Peddie and his colleagues. Whoever they referred to, when addressing technical matters as the franchise was born, has lead them down the path to a mess. The only remedy now is to start again. The hiring of someone to clean up the mess is logically the correct move but finding that person will be no easy task.

Benitez Answers Critics

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez answered his critics in the most emphatic way after his team beat Manchester United 2-0 in an absolutely enthralling encounter at Liverpool's Anfield stadium. With Fernando Torres back in the lineup despite a nagging injury, Benitez again proved he can inspire some terrific Liverpool performances. If there was one way to diffuse the tension that has surrounded the Liverpool team of late, it is to beat the archenemy. It should at least quell some of the passionate Liverpool fans - for the time being, of course.

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