Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Does TFC have a knowledgeable fan base?

Well the first portion of preseason is over with what appeared to be a set of respectable performances against top clubs from Belgrade and Zagreb although it is tough to tell for sure when there is no way to watch the entire games and all you see are edited highlight clips. So far roster changes have been few and far between, probably because Earl Cochrane was very efficient at clearing out the deadwood that had accumulated under the old regime (perhaps to the point of being a tad overzealous in the case of Amadou Sanyang?). The implications of the decision to jettison Chad Barrett is definitely worth examining closely, however.

Chad Barrett misses

It was highly improbable that Chad Barrett was ever going to be able to play the Ajax 4-3-3 style because his game revolves around workrate over technique and constantly trying to find open space in behind the last defender rather than reading the game well enough to know when to drop deep to try to set up a wall pass for a central midfielder. Winter would perhaps do well to ponder why a player of such limited technical ability would be sought after by a coach like Bruce Arena and by a franchise like the LA Galaxy despite the prohibitively expensive contract. The answer is clearly that it is not easy to replace a player like Edson Buddle in an MLS context and a player that can provide you with about 10 goals a season is a definite asset even if he misses a barrow load of easy chances along the way. Instead of being pragmatic like that there is clearly a desire rightly or wrongly on Winter's part like Preki before him to be able to immediately field a team that plays his favoured style even if that leads to problems in the short term given the restrictions on recruitment imposed by MLS's unique set of roster regulations.

Gerry Dobson interviews Juergen Klinsmann

Part of Juergen Klinnsman's remit was to pinpoint the Canadian style of play and find a coach who could build the club to consistently deliver that style in the years ahead. Whether that has been achieved remains to be seen. I think what has emerged out of that process is a coach who can deliver the sort of soccer that Juergen Klinsmann most respects based on a big name that MLSE staff can market successfully to meet targets on ticket sales and sponsorships as they jockey for position in the post-Richard Peddie environment at MLSE. I'm not convinced that TFC fans are actually naturally predisposed towards the Dutch style of play. The fan favourites that have emerged over the years such as Danny Dichio, Dan Gargan and at least when on goalscoring form Chad Barrett have tended to be players of relatively limited technical ability who battle hard in a stereotypical Canadian hockey player sort of way, while in contrast the fan base never really warmed to more skillful players like Amado Guevara. As much as some people would probably hate to admit it a direct and high tempo British style 4-4-2 is what many people are probably most comfortable with watching in entertainment terms even if it is very much dated nowadays tactically and the more deliberate and technical Dutch style is going to take a lot of getting used to for some people.

Paul Mariner's first ever goal for Ipswich Town

So what lies ahead? Hopefully Winter will be able to use his contacts within the European game to find suitable replacements for the many obvious voids within the roster but the reality remains that this season could soon turn really ugly if Barrett is not effectively replaced, Dwayne De Rosario downs tools to a significant extent because of his ongoing contract dispute and Julian De Guzman continues to seriously under perform as the team's marquee designated player. Past mistakes in player personnel decisions can not be undone overnight. If TFC are well short of a playoff spot by late August odds on the suits at MLSE will drop Winter without the slightest compunction just as they fired Preki. The last thing somebody like Tom Anselmi or Paul Beirne will need at that point is a 60% season ticket renewal rate because clambering up the greasy pole in corporate promotion terms in the aftermath of Richard Peddie's retirement will be very much the name of the game and selling tickets and attracting lucrative sponsorship deals in the here and now is what drives that not what may or may not happen two or three seasons from now if an Ajax style footballing culture finally starts to take root. Look for a combination of Paul Mariner and Danny Dichio swinging things back to a more direct British style of play to be the plan B used to try to head off that particular possibility at the pass if the need arises. Danny Dichio is being kept in the wings for a reason.

Behind the scenes at the new management team's first press conference

So what can break a cycle emerging of footballing decisions being driven primarily by short-term marketing considerations? The answer clearly is the emergence of a genuinely knowledgeable fan base, who don't expect an instant transformation every time a coaching change is made and can appreciate that the competitive parity of MLS means there is no shortcut to success by reaching for the chequebook Chelsea style. It's time for the core fan base to decide whether or not they really buy into this vision of TFC being the next Ajax based on a production line of players coming through from the Academy team. If the answer is yes (and so far the body language of players interviewed in the in house video clips from Turkey suggests that things are going very well in that regard) then there needs to be a willingness on the part of supporters to do just that, support, by giving Aaron Winter and Bob de Klerk the two seasons that Sigi Schmid had at the Columbus Crew to turn things around and build a dominant franchise based on a willingness to go through some short term pain for long term gain if things don't go well initially. That means that the online post-game hysteria after every loss that has an effect on the tone of subsequent mainstream media coverage needs to be actively combated this summer by people, who can see the bigger picture. If the vibe that surrounds TFC tends to be that the fan base are comfortable with the long term strategic vision shown by Tom Anselmi and Paul Beirne in assembling the new management team and have faith that things will eventually turn around there will be less danger of damaging kneejerk executive decisions in the build up to season ticket renewal season if it turns out that Aaron Winter and Paul Mariner are not able to assemble all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle the first time around.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this article, you have brought up points that I have not read elsewhere, thanks! Helmut

  2. "Past mistakes in player personnel decisions can not be undone overnight."

    Many mistakes, featuring international players who couldn't find employment anywhere else in MLS after their league debut with TFC. Welsh, Vitti, Samuel, Robert, from previous years spring to mind. Of those from last year's roster Sanyang was on low coin and he just got released by the Fire, Saric on a little higher contract last year remains clubless, the Latvian and the Russian have returned to Europe along with the Spaniard, I presume. I think Nane is still with Colorado (is he considered an international or does he have a green card?).

    Maybe in comparison with other MLS teams things aren't as bad as I think. But the roster turnover here seemed overly high under Johnson's direction, not helped by the coaching carousel to boot.

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