The Wins Column: T Dot Woe

A season that started with such great promise for Toronto FC has become farcical.

The sky is blue.

For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Toronto FC find themselves on the outside of the MLS playoff picture following a week that saw them lose twice in four days to the Philadelphia Union.

Only a month ago did MLSsoccer.com writer Benjamin Baer give the Reds a staggering 90 percent chance of making it to the postseason for the first time in their eight year history. As of yesterday morning, those odds were down to 36 percent according to sportsclubstats.com. That’s T Dot Woe for you.

So what changed? Lots. And there’s likely much more that has been kept behind closed doors. But here are some of the important things.

First, TFC reverted back to old habits. Defending became a discombobulated mess, passing the ball became too difficult, and shooting the ball became punishable by death. Perhaps the worst habit of them all, conceding late goals, has resurfaced in the form of conceding early goals.

Next, the injury bug that usually packs a punch brought a baseball bat this year. Three starting defenders- Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell, and Justin Morrow- have all been out for extended periods. Leading scorer Jermain Defoe has also missed significant time and may not be back for another week or two yet. Couple those with the usual knocks (and a World Cup break for Michael Bradley) and the Reds have had to run through many different starting lineups.

Not to be forgotten in all this is the carousel that is upper management. Ryan Nelsen was fired on August 31, partly due to his side’s poor form but also because General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko felt the need to show Nelsen who was in charge. And then of course there is Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE, owner/operator of Toronto FC), who has made clear his intentions to resign by June at the latest. Throw in the fact that Leiweke hand-picked Bezbatchenko to run TFC back in September 2013 with the club’s poor performance and the Nelsen fallout and it isn’t hard to see the GM position becoming vacant in the near future.

And last but not least, there is the Jermain Defoe saga. Once dubbed the Bloody Big Deal, it has, like TFC’s season, become a Bloody Big Disaster.

MLSE has hit the proverbial “reset button” on Toronto FC time and time again. I wouldn’t be surprised if the button actually exists somewhere. It’s probably on Leiweke’s desk. It’s probably a jerry-rigged “easy button” from Staples.

This winter, the reset button was hit once again. But this time, it felt like an ultimatum was being issued. Defoe and Bradley were simultaneously hopping the pond to rescue a sad-sack franchise. They were expected to instantly become the best players in club history and keep what was left of a fading fanbase happy to stick around. Or if nothing else, they could at least justify their enormous paycheques by making Toronto FC worth watching again.

It started out well. Both Bradley and Defoe were playing at a high level and their teammates seemed to raise their games in the presence of these soccer giants.

But then the losses started coming. The supporting cast, or at least most of it, was falling flat on their feet. Bradley was forced into doing everything while Defoe was forced to watch from sick bay. Somewhere in between, Defoe justifiably got unhappy.

Not even six months into a four-year contract that treated him like royalty, yet the man who was supposed to save soccer in Toronto wanted out. He came close to it, but Toronto FC ended up turning down what was said to be a club-record bid for a player. Not even days after this, rumours of Defoe leaving in the January transfer window surfaced, leaving the situation even cloudier than it was before.

Could TFC have cashed in on Defoe and sold him for more than they bought him for? If the rumours and reports are true, then yes. But as stated before, Defoe’s influence to this club stretches far beyond the pitch. Defoe is almost the “I” in team. Almost. If he was, he would be gone. But knowing that his departure could wreak havoc among an already frustrated fanbase, management kept him around. If nothing else, Defoe will get paid a little more, score a few more goals upon his return to health, and will leave in January with a bit more notice.

What never ceases to amaze me is how Toronto FC, my hometown club which I have followed since the very beginning, find new ways to dig themselves into the ground. What is even more astonishing is how a truckload of money thrown into this annual reinvention of the wheel somehow keeps fans believing that the frustration will end. It has worked for some, namely Seattle and D.C. this season. You would think that after eight years of the same shoddy defending, of the same inability to finish, of the same uninspired play, of the same disgruntled fans, of the same roster and management overhauls, of the same investments in star power that something would have worked by now.

It hasn’t. And with each passing failure it feels like a wire is being cut on a bomb. At some point, this franchise is bound to explode into non-existence.

So take it in while you can. Watch a match. Go to one if you’re nearby; tickets are becoming far too easy to acquire these days. Buy a Jermain Defoe jersey to remind yourself of this incredible collapse.

Scratch that actually. If you need a Defoe jersey, I have a friend who doesn’t want his anymore. He’s returning to his real true love, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

That’s MLSE for you. Making Losing Seem Easy.

 

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