Sunday, April 26, 2015

Those TFC thriving at BMO Field (and don't force those Argos on us) Blues

This morning I was a guest on the Naz and Wally Sportshour on AM740, Sunday mornings from 9-10 am. They are good guys (despite their hockey addictions), but I feel that I was unable to establish the case for TFC and the love felt for a proper home ground  for Canadian soccer fully.  The protection that soccer fans are seeking when talk of throwing the Argos into what has been for many a year the national soccer stadium - BMO Field is connected to many things. Trust, investment, awareness and pride come into play. Soccer requires a quality surface to be a quality product. It is also unfair to say that TFC requires to be a great team on the field in order to deserve a proper playing surface. Nobody ever says that about any other team on the planet. 
I have tried to fill out some of the topics that came up on the radio, but hope it is comprehensive enough that listening in to the show is not required.

Why is hiring the right TFC President important?

In recent times Tim Leiweke has been the unofficial TFC president. He has signed the big player contracts. He came to Toronto on the strength of his LA Galaxy experience. He met with interested season ticket holders in March 2014 to introduce the stadium expansion. He promised that he would protect the soccer experience, keep BMO Field a soccer first facility.

When Leiweke leaves (this June) who maintains that promise? Some TFC fans never trusted Tim L in the first place, but a new hire TFC President will take on that role. The fear is that TFC will no longer have the attention of MLSE and suffer due to internal politics


When Mayor John Tory toured the facility recently (with Tim Leiweke) soccer fans listened carefully for the Tory pro-CFL bias. Tory said all the right things concerning a soccer first facility, but was that due to Leiweke? Too many Toronto politicians (Mark Grimes, Norm Kelly, and that obscure Ford fellow) have a pro-Argo bias and are too keen to trample over soccer fan concerns.

Why is MLSE not to be trusted?

They are split. The Rogers side wants a thriving Blue Jays selling tickets and strong baseball TV ratings. The Bell side owns TSN, so they want a thriving Argos because they have the exclusive contract to televise CFL games. However the Argos on their own lose money, so Bell (and/or Larry Tanenbaum) have not been in a hurry to buy the Argos.
TFC has been profitable, but spending on big contracts has squeezed that. Big name TFC is a gamble that bigger profits await with turning around the loser TFC history. TFC tv ratings have been miniscule.

Saving the Argos

Canadian football has fallen off the map in Toronto. I will gladly bet 99% of Ontario sports fans could not name the head football coach of the U of T Blues or the York U Lions. Toronto football fans follow US College and NFL. They would rather travel cross the border to tailgate than go to an Argo or Canadian university game
It has been a series of bad decisons that has constantly lowered the Argos. Putting the Argos in BMO Field is not a standalone solution to Argo fortunes. The Alouettes may play in a small stadium, but Quebec junior football and university football (Laval, UofMontreal, Sherbrooke, McGill, Bishop’s) are all thriving. It is possible to want Canadian football to both survive and thrive AND see plopping the Argos at BMO as a short sighted move.

Argos and TFC at the same stadium has the potential to be a lose - lose proposition. Wreck the playing surface (or go plastic) and you lose the purist soccer fan. Have the Argos dropped in and have to play second fiddle is not a help to them. The Blue Jays have given the Argos the short end of the scheduling stick for decades. What if they shift to this outdoor stadium and it is not the magic solution? The Argos need leadership and vision. Present Argo ownership is part of the problem - not part of the solution.

What are the big issues about CFL games in that stadium?

Length of playing field and a cheap tenant

Right now the playing field at BMO is not long enough for any style of North American football. It is 115 yards in length- NFL football needs 120 (field 100 yds+ 2x10 yard end zones) CFL football needs 150 yards (field 110 + 2x20 yard end zones).
So either the BMO Field north stands and/or south stands have to somehow make way for a larger field. Retractable stands that would keep fans close to the soccer action and pull back for CFL are a solution that has both mystery engineering questions and mystery costs.
How can you have Braley trying to sell the Argos, concerned about losing money for years AND have the same guy able to finance a huge money investment in what would be the world's FIRST soccer stadium that could also house a CFL team.
The Argos have a history of not investing in facilities. If they care little about presenting their own product in the best light (in the dome since 1989, prior to that they played in the “Mistake by the Lake), how can you expect them to care about soccer concerns?

Schedule conflicts will chew up real grass, doubts about other styles of playing surface

Internet rumours say that MLSE is trying to get future Grey Cups, the surefire CFL moneymaker, as part of a deal that sees both new Argo ownership and Argos at BMO
TFC fans see this as a field condition train wreck in the making. MLS has playoffs throughout November and the team in the finals for the MLS Cup with the best regular season gets to host. Trying to schedule an Argo playoff game, followed by a Grey Cup around two MLS playoff games and an MLS Cup in crummy November weather (actually MLS Cup shows up in early December) is going to be a huge mess. Leiweke has talked about replacing the natural grass of BMO Field with a hybrid product (plastic fibres wrapped around real grass to strengthen) and says that it has worked at Wembley in London, England. But Wembley hosts one NFL game per year and is the home ground of no club team.

Basic fairness

Why can the Blue Jays evict a tenant to protect their field, but TFC has to sacrifice their field as a result?

The X factors
TFC fans also fear that all this soccer vs Canadian football squabble is a sideshow. That MLSE will compromise both of those sports because their prime goal is outdoor Maple Leaf NHL games.

TFC fans also see the example of the Foxboro stadium in Massachusetts as a nightmare. The New England Patriots and the New England Revolution are owned by the same man and play in the same stadium. The soccer team is clearly the second class one by a mile. The playing surface is NFL friendly, soccer be damned.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Happy Birthday Mr. Hornby

Hornby at Highbury

Today is Nick Hornby's birthday. I have been aware for many a year that he and I were both born in 1957. I might have mentioned that too many times in my life.  Not my most pathetic attempt at reflected glory, but in the vicinity. (btw) The other 1957 birth that I am too fond of mentioning is Lyle Lovett, which somehow fits unless it doesn't.

I have read an awful lot of Nick Hornby and I do enjoy both his fiction and his non-fiction. A writer of humour and insight with obsessions directed at books, music and football seems to be a gift from heaven to my twisted mind. He is one of those writers that I am unsure that I would enjoy the company of. Perhaps he fits better into my scheme of the world as a magnetic force than an actual human. So it takes a bit of energy to wish him a happy birthday. It means that I am treating him like a person.

It all goes back to "Fever Pitch", his non-fiction tale of growing up and growing into and then being totally gripped by his devotion to Arsenal Football Club. I had combined writing and football from before I read Hornby, but nothing will ever weld those things together more than "Fever Pitch". I lived in England for a time in 1979 and 1980 and I entertain the notion that I might have attended a match at Highbury. That seems important to me. As if breathing the same air and watching Liam Brady at the same time means a connection. Did I mention pathetic attempts at reflected glory?

No Hornby, no Mistake by the Lake I would argue. Following a team from afar was a primitive matter in my youth and TFC gave me an opportunity (long after my youth) to be with a team from day 1 and contribute to a legacy that I only glimpsed with Arsenal back then.  (Funny too, that over the years since I have been more aware of my father's history and legacy and consider Everton the team deserving of my support from afar).
I only hope that from time to time my blogging has even a microscopic touch of Hornby in that I attempt to catch the self-imposed mental suffering and those small glimpses of glory that come with following a football team. TFC wallows in the former, might completely avoid the latter.

 Not sure that I have captured what I intended to convey here, so I will let you get back to your cake and candles.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chicago Fire 3 Toronto FC 2 OR 2 steps forward, 3 steps back

Wipe Out

I am not hitting the panic button after the four road games that have started TFC season 2015, but I am making sure that I know where that button is located. Perhaps the victory over the Whitecaps gave us the wrong impression, had us believing that the team was farther along the process of team building than they truly are.

Vanney's TFC continues to play with a 4-3-3 formation, but using the two halfbacks as attacking wingbacks constantly puts a lot of pressure on the central pairing. In Chicago that pair were Hagglund and Morrow. Neither gave a performance of dominating defending or dazzling attack from the back. Perhaps the perfect pairing for Vanney, amongst the players currently on the roster, would be Perquis and Simonin. Two defenders who have the offensive skills to make Vanney's "attack from the back". The worrying trend is that when TFC central defenders are not dazzling us with precise passing from the back, Michael Bradley falls back to play that role. Now I concede this was truest in Chicago when TFC were down to 10 men. When Bradley is way back, the Vanney love of three forwards is at it's worst. Scrambling from the back leads to long ball desperation and all those forwards are bound to be lacking service.

Speaking of down to ten men, Warren Creavalle will not play the next game thanks to his red card (two yellows) yesterday. It takes a team to lose, but Creavalle is sticking out for all the wrong reasons. It might be difficult to find a TFC fan concerned about playing without Creavalle next game. The first Fire goal was due to Morrow losing the ball under pressure in a bad spot. Michael Bradley stuck out as watching more than defending, but Creavalle was a witness from behind the play too. The second Fire goal was a combination of Hagglund not closing down the space on the attacker and Creavalle guarding ghosts. When the ball is that close to your goal, if you are not pressing the attacker or marking a man, you are essentially a pylon obscuring your keeper. Then the third Chicago goal took place off of the free kick that followed the Creavalle open field foul that had him sent off. Just awful defending or rather replacing defending with out and out fouling.

Since I'm chattering about three forwards, time to put forth my worries about Robbie Findley. Perhaps he is suffering from poor service, often playing the same side of the field as Warren Creavalle (will his time in the hot seat never end?), but I worry that he has not contributed enough to justify his starting role. We entering chicken/egg territory for Easter here. Is the third forward a fifth wheel because it is Findley or is Findley facing the universal third forward problem?

On a personal note, I may have hurt my arm from excessively patting myself on the back. The blog post last week included my prediction that BOTH Cheyrou and Giovinco would score their first MLS goals against Chicago. The Gio goal was a fluke and he was smart enough to barely celebrate it. The combination of Gio and Cheyrou made the second TFC goal much more of a satisfying treat. As President Bush once said, Mission Accomplished. Now I am hoping that my prediction of Perquis and Simonin as the central pairing becomes my next success.

So far I have been heavy on the criticism. A road loss where moments of TFC skill and buildup were negated by amateur hour will do that to a blogger. I have to give credit to another strong performance from Ashtone Morgan. His cutback to Giovinco for his blooper goal was smart play in deep. Just as very little attack seems to come from the Findley/Creavalle side of the field, Morgan's side seemed well defended. In the first half breakaway by Chicago's Accam, not only did Joe Bendik make a smart save, but Ashtone Morgan kept the pressure on in pursuit. The Morgan of a few years ago would have tried something desperate.

The ongoing road trip is now down to three games ahead. Dallas, Orlando and Philly and something tells me that Toronto will look strongest against Dallas, despite their current strong form. The flip is that the other two games will be the ones where you think points could be had and the frustration level will continue.  Stay tuned.