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Red Rants: We're Crap and we know it

By Ian Harvey



Kevin Payne has been relieved of duty as Toronto FC General Manager
Kevin Payne has been relieved of duty as Toronto FC General Manager

Well, what a week that was around Toronto FC and its parent company, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.

The big bomb drop was the sacking of General Manager Kevin Payne after failing to deliver on his grand promises just nine months into his reign.

MLSE is the sports ownership giant in Canada, owning the Toronto Maple Leafs, The Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC. Yet they remain the butt of jokes. The Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 despite the river of cash flowing through the Gardens (and subsequently the Air Canada Centre). And the Raptors? About par with TFC, they’re also in “rebuilding mode.”

Newly minted MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke telegraphed the blood letting back in mid July and delivered, bouncing Raptors GM Brian Colangelo as part of an across the board slapdown. Then Payne was relieved of duty.

Next to go was COO Tom Anseimi.  Nice guy. Knew squat about football. To tell the truth there hasn’t been much weeping around the forums and bars. Anselmi was out of his depth from the get go.

Payne, frankly, was a screw up. He over promised and under delivered

Big signing, he promised. Yeah? Who? Payne was all mouth and no trousers. He leaked that he’d signed legend Diego Forlan before being forced to eat his words when it became clear Forlan’s camp was using the discussions to weasel a better deal in his native South America. They even floated a rumour that Carols Tevez was coming. Hah!

What we got was a player-in-progress, Argentine Maximiliano Urruti and it took six months to complete that deal. He even showed up unfit and has yet to start a game.

Other signings came and went, just another revolving door in the TFC clubhouse.

This is a club which has been through some 100 or more players and coaches in seven short years and has yet to make the play offs or post a winning record.

With the departure of Payne – who will hang around to help with the transition – the question now is how safe if coach Ryan Nelsen’s? He too hasn’t been a great addition since his arrival from the Premier League. He literally traded in his Queen’s Park Rangers boots for a track suit and clipboard and started as a manager with zero experience.

With perhaps eight players worth keeping on the current roster, deals that saw the trade of Luis Silva to D.C. United where he’s thrived have come back to bite Payne in the derriere.

TFC is moribund. Key striker and top dollar man, Dutchman Danny Koevermans hasn’t played but a handful of minutes since getting reinjured on his return from rehab and will be gone next season; promising holding midfielder Matias Laba, the so called “young designated player” is out for the season with a foot injury and new additions, Swiss defender Jonas Elmer and Spaniard Alvaro Rey have yet to start a game, though the latter has come on as a sub and looked like he might be an improvement.

The big issue at Toronto is salary cap and overspending for underperforming players. The previous regime takes part of the blame but Payne will wear the goat horns for the bulk of those decisions.

Adding more irony is the news that MLSE executive had set aside $25 million for spending on players but Payne failed to pull the trigger on a single decent deal, including walking away from talks with former Tottenham Hotspurs player, Client Dempsey, who returned to North America and signed with the Seattle Sounders.

When was the last time you heard of a sports executive not touching the pile of gold he’d been given to sign marquee players?

Here are the sad sack facts for Toronto FC fans as we prepare to shiver our way through the last home games of the season as fall sets in and the winds from Lake Ontario turn to razors: We ain’t making the playoffs, again. It’s hardly news. We knew that in July.

Furthermore, in year eight there will be more promises and more empty seats because fewer and fewer people are buying into this fantasy plan. To offset that TFC have announced they will roll back ticket renewals to January from October and hold ticket prices flat.

It’s a sign of desperation and how deeply hard core fan resentment runs because last year MLSE cut ticket prices in half, rolling them back to Year One levels. That year you couldn’t get a ticket to a TFC game unless you mortgaged the house and spent the kids’ college fund. This fall you can’t give ‘em away.

The MLS used to point to Toronto as an example of a stellar franchise launch. TFC fans took the league from being an event for kids, moms and grannies to being a full on, tribal expression of passion fueled by crazed fans with banners, singing in unison, 20,000 strong, game in, game out. Year One 300 fans made the trip to New York for the Red Bulls game, startling fans and stadium security alike.

All by bus and stuffed into a hostel in New Amsterdam. Now that’s passion! Blasé Manhattanites sat up took notice that there were a bunch of crazies wearing red shirts and scarves walking around singing the day before the game. Now that’s visibility!

Now, we barely sing. We barely chant. It’s a hollow caricature of what it was.  What’s the point? Even when we should win the refs seem to screw us over, but that’s a topic for anther Red Rant.

MLSE is hated by Leaf fans and now by TFC fans alike. The losing starts at the top and there will have to be more than some ritualistic executive sacrifices to turn that sentiment around.