Apologies for taking so long to post. These thoughts have been percolating in the head for days and days. I hope they have grown clearer in the process.
I attended the President’s breakfast event on Saturday morning September 28th and I came away from it dismayed, dejected and defeated. There was a lot of talk, a fair amount of smoke and mirrors, however the fans in attendance were asking questions that presented a scattered point of view. The number one issue, to my mind, was always put to the side.
The number one issue in my mind is the MLS salary cap. It continues to be discussed by TFC leaders and fans alike as if it came down from the mountain on a tablet with Moses. I know the cautionary tale of the NASL, heck I am old enough to have attended Blizzard games at both Varsity and CNE. When will the stability of MLS mean that team revenue determines salaries not an artificial number designed for other markets? I think that the answer to that question in the case of Toronto is now.
The salary cap is the biggest enemy that TFC faces. The time has come for fans and TFC to work against it all day, every day. I shake my head every time we hear that a TFC player, who makes far, far less than the 15th player on the Raptor roster or the 20th player on the Leaf roster, has too expensive a contract to continue playing in Toronto. What is the revenue for TFC? By sticking to this salary cap, what percentage of the revenue is going to player’s salaries? When Tim L says that the MLSE board has given permission for him to spend millions on 2 stars designated players, where is that money coming from? Is it a gamble or is it a reflection that by underpaying 26 players on the roster MLSE can easily afford to overpay 2? What percentage of TFC revenue is going to pay the salaries of R Nelsen, Tim B and Tim L? Why do we fans attend a free breakfast and never talk about team finances? Being a TFC fan should not equal being a financial fool.
The critical fact for Toronto footy fans is our passion for the global game. We say we want a TFC that makes the playoffs, but I suspect that we want far more glory than that. We want a team that establishes soccer as a premium sport in Ontario. We want to be part of the turnaround that rescues Canada as a force in national team competitions. We want to be both a source and a destination for great players of the beautiful game.
The Toronto soccer fan (and this is the brilliance of the TFC slogan “All for One”) almost always has ties to teams elsewhere through heritage and family. We know that famous teams have astronomical budgets. Nobody nickels and dimes their way to football glory in the modern age.
The breakfast was my first time in the same room as Ryan Nelsen, Tim Bezbatchenko and Tim Leiweke. I think that whether Kevin Payne was the right guy to be President of TFC, at least TFC had a president. I am doubtful that Tim L. is the right guy to be president, especially with his “buy big names” approach. I also think that sharing a leader with a hockey team and a basketball team is going to be a huge problem.
Tim B. as the GM is a horrible choice. He seems to be a spreadsheet fantasy sports geek whose sole claim to the job is that he will know what all the other teams are spending. Why hire a bean counter to run this team, a wonk from head office? This is not the firebrand revolutionary who is going to campaign against the salary cap all day, every day. Tim B. will be the GM who tells player “A” he is asking for too much money because the Columbus Crew’s player “A” makes 20 grand less than that. It looks like the nickel and dime road to glory when we need a builder, a leader of experience and vision. When you are hiring (coaches and scouts), drafting, trading, communicating and even inspiring, a spreadsheet is not going to help. Tim L. said that Tim B. wrote a report outlining all the TFC mistakes. Big deal, I have been writing a blog for seven years about those same mistakes. That didn’t make me a candidate for the job. Hindsight is not the same as vision.
Which leaves Ryan Nelsen. He arrived as an unconventional surprise choice as TFC head coach. I think that some fans hoped that choosing him would turn out to be the secret formula for success. The 2013 season has taken most of the air out of that notion. The fans see a very slow learning curve in terms of tactics, player selection and substitutions. It seems that the departure of Payne gives Nelsen a chance to fashion the team his way (as long as it corresponds to the Tim L vision). You hope he has the formula, but fear that he has just been given the chance to write his own ticket out of town.
Remember, the salary cap, without a relationship to team revenue, must go in order for TFC (and some of MLS) to take the next step towards “big league” status. Now repeat that all day, every day.