What's wrong with Toronto FC?
It's the question that fans, the media and the club have been trying to answer for six seasons with little luck. After each increasingly painful year, the club first goes through some exhaustive soul searching and then fires into action.
The problem is those firing the shots have spent years aiming for silver-bullet solutions -- a narrow focus answer to what is clearly now a broad problem.
One year, they needed a striker. If only they could have an out-and-out poacher who could finish all those great opportunities being created, that would be the answer to all their ills. In came Canadian international Ali Gerba. He left after 11 appearances.
The next year, it was the team needed a natural grass pitch to play on. The thinking was that the world's best players weren't coming to Toronto because they hated playing on dreaded field turf. Even team leader Dwayne De Rosario preached how grass could be a savior to all their sins. He left a season after it was installed. Toronto was one of the most injured clubs in MLS last year.
On to the need for a coach with a European pedigree, someone with a true vision of what the club needs. Enter Aron Winter stage left. Mr. Winter, please exit stage right.
Then there was the search for the ever-illusive centrebacks, of which Toronto just released another pair this week.
Throw in a whole host of other temporary fixes and we finally settle on the latest incarnation of the cure to what ails ya -- the need for a club president. It's a role that is admittedly badly needed in an organization short on soccer people and planning, but one that has all the markings of those silver bullets shot from the barrel of short-term planning.
Toronto FC has spent the better part of the last six years lurching from one problem to the next, throwing up any stop-gap measure they could find, but never really sitting down and putting a long-term plan in place. The closest they've come to executing something that resembled a soccer strategy has been their commitment to building a youth academy and a first-class training facility.
Despite some early payoffs, even that has been met with its fair share of inconsistencies. They released three academy graduates who had been signed to the first team this week and even had difficulties scheduling games at their own park this past year.
Now they're preparing to hire someone by year's end that will be in charge of the soccer side of things at Toronto FC, a leader who will put that long-awaited plan into place. Yet by doing so, they run the risk of just creating another host of problems.
First and foremost, their apparent commitment to head coach Paul Mariner through 2013. Mariner confirmed recently that he had, indeed, been given the green light for the team's seventh campaign, but no president with an ounce of corporate awareness is going to step into a senior role where he doesn't have the power to hire and fire his staff. MLSE's commitment to its coach immediately undermines that position and sets up the very real potential for future conflict.
Last month, Winter told Sportsnet how Mariner, an underling of Winter's at the time, had actively sought to undermine his authority throughout the season. From scuttled signings to spreading rumours about him to management, Winter painted a picture of power struggles and pettiness among the club's brass.
How is Mariner, an entrenched member of Toronto FC, going to react to when his new boss arrives and starts laying out his plans for the future? There is no telling, but at present Mariner is very much the man in charge -- something he's seemingly sought since arriving.
MLSE could include Mariner in the decision-making process for that hire, but the optics of a coach handpicking his future boss would be too strange even for Toronto FC, which has seen its share of head scratchers. And frankly, it would do little to dissuade the growing perception around MLS that Toronto is an organization that has often had critical decisions crippled by cronyism.
Forgetting the time under Mo Johnston for a moment, which were seasons of largely just firing blanks, Toronto FC has clearly made sincere attempts these past few years to address the problems they have. They've brought in a big-name consultant and, by that, admitted their weaknesses in soccer knowledge at a management level. They've hired world-class designated players to be leaders on the field and they've taken the drastic action of dramatically reducing season-ticket prices.
There is no denying that they're trying to succeed.
However, it is how they handle the hiring of this club president that will dictate whether this is a move that can finally put them on the path to success or whether this will be just another in a long firing line of silver-bullet solutions.
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