Toronto FC - A fan's tale | Soccer | CBC Sports

MLSToronto FC - A fan's tale

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | 10:33 PM

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Bringing in a quality veteran like Danny Koevermans was a good move by Toronto FC, but it didn’t result in a post-season appearance. (Chris Young/Canadian Press) Bringing in a quality veteran like Danny Koevermans was a good move by Toronto FC, but it didn’t result in a post-season appearance. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

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He has been a season ticket holder since Day 1. He has already renewed for 2012. He has pricey seats halfway in the West stand at BMO Field. He is going to give it one more year.

He has been a season ticket holder since Day 1. He has already renewed for 2012. He has pricey seats halfway in the West stand at BMO Field. He is going to give it one more year.

I met Tony quite by accident on the golf course. We were both playing as singles until I caught up with him on the fourth green. It was then we ran into the tail end of the Men's midweek competition ahead of us. We couldn't play through so we waited our turn as the late afternoon shadows lengthened almost visibly. We were going nowhere fast.

Between strokes the conversation quickly turned to soccer. Tony is part of the large Croatian community in Toronto and remembers the good old days. It is 35 years since the legendary Eusebio led Toronto Metros-Croatia to Soccer Bowl glory in 1976, but Tony recalls it as if it were yesterday.

According to Tony you couldn't get a ticket for Varsity Stadium. In a pre-baseball city, soccer was king in the summer. That year the North American Soccer League was contested by 20 teams, including one from Toronto, and one from Vancouver. Sounds kind of familiar doesn't it.

Except in 1976 both Canadian teams made the playoffs. The Whitecaps suffered a narrow first-round loss at Seattle while the Metros-Croatia won four games in 10 days in four different cities. The entire 24-game regular season, plus the playoffs, was in the books by the end of August.

The Metros-Croatia was sold and morphed into the Blizzard in 1979, the same year the Whitecaps celebrated their finest hour. Eusebio had come and gone. Five years, and two Soccer Bowl appearances later, the Blizzard melted away along with the rest of the NASL.

A generation later, the North American soccer landscape looks much the same - at least on the surface. There are teams in New York and Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. The Whitecaps, the Sounders, the Timbers and the Earthquakes are all back where they once were.

The name has changed of course. Major League Soccer does things differently. The business model bears no resemblance to the halcyon days of the NASL but it knows where the fans are. It is no surprise many of the current franchises are based in cities which supported soccer in another era.

Tony desperately wants some 21st century soccer memories to cherish. His love of the game remains undiminished but his love affair with Toronto FC has hit a rocky patch. He is having doubts about a relationship he originally jumped into without a second thought.

He's not prepared to throw in the towel just yet. Tony believes there is still hope. He likes the way head coach Aron Winter has used his European connections to bring in quality veterans like Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings. Clearly their experience has made a difference at both ends of the park.

Bothered by departure

The Dutch forward's late-season strike rate bodes well for 2012, but Tony is still bothered by the departure of Toronto's favourite son. If Koevermans had played on the same team as Dwayne de Rosario, that would have been a potent goal-scoring combo he reckons.

He has a point. De Rosario has just collected the MLS Golden Boot for the first time in his career. He beat out Chris Wondolowski for the honour on the basis of not only goals scored (16) but also the 12 assists he provided in 2011. Only one of each counted for TFC before his early season move to New York.

Had he stayed would it have made the big difference? Would his goals have been enough to hoist his hometown club into the playoffs? Maybe, though I have my doubts. Too many goals (59) were shipped at the other end to allow TFC to challenge for the post-season and it's doubtful whether the club could have signed Koevermans and Frings under the salary cap with De Rosario still on the books.

So will Tony's loyalty be rewarded? Are better times ahead for a franchise which has become a byword for underachievement? Will his expensive seat finally represent value for money in 2012? A place in the knock out stages of the CONCACAF Champions League offers encouragement, but that cannot be allowed to mask the underlying problems.

Despite the upgrade in player personnel, TFC remains uncompetitive in MLS. The team won only three of its final 13 League games after the arrival of Frings and Koevermans and posted only one clean sheet in the process. Koevermans' eight goals helped but his teammates leaked 19 at the wrong end during his 10 appearances.

Tony's lucky. He has a choice. Toronto FC may have let him down again, but not so his first love. Toronto Croatia, the team he worshipped as a teenager is riding high again. On the weekend it will contest the CSL Championship match, bidding for its first title since 2007.
Now that's the stuff dreams are made of.

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