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Jack: Why Leiweke must get Toronto FC's DP search right

Kristian Jack
11/28/2013 9:41:31 AM
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You are the President of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

Your name is Tim Leiweke.

You are appalled at the pathetic effort Toronto FC has put out on the field during their seven-year existence.

You have publicly pledged to turn it around. You talk about the team in the same breath as the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto FC is no longer the unfortunate adopted son. Unfortunate, yes; adopted, no.

You have a plan to turn them around. The company you work for might as well have a printing press producing dollars in the basement of the ACC, it is that rich.

In an ideal, much fairer world, you would be able to spend, spend and spend some more to improve the team in all areas. However, this is professional sports where salary caps are implemented to create parity. You belong to the filthy rich MLSE, but in Major League Soccer there is only so much you can do with the money.

Except in one area. An area you helped develop when David Beckham joined you in Los Angeles.

You know full well you are allowed at least two designated spots where players can be paid whatever you want.
When it comes to filling out the names in these positions, money is not the issue. Finding the players who will come is.

You know you are an exceptional salesman, but you also know just how hard it is to sell this team to anyone. Simply getting the attention of international players should be an accomplishment.

Only now are you fully aware of just how bad Toronto FC have been. They have produced atrocious performances season after season. Word on the street is out on them and the feedback is not good. Incompetence off the field with poor decisions from upper management has led to incompetence on it for far too long.

On the pitch, they are the equivalent of Coventry City, a club stuck in the middle of the third tier of English football after ending five years of misery in the second tier (known as the Championship) when they were relegated at the end of the 2011/12 season. The Championship has often been compared to MLS in terms of quality but, unlike Coventry, Toronto FC's poor run didn't end in relegation.

Back when Toronto FC began, much like at Coventry, when you were dining with Becks, they averaged over 20,000 people per game to watch the occasional good game, but ones that usually flipped between mediocre and miserable. Poor performances continued, yet the fans stayed, averaging over 20,000 in each of the first five seasons. After seven, remarkably, the club still averages over 18,000 per game, but as a businessman you know that is tickets sold and not bums on seats. That being said, it is still an extremely impressive number considering the awful entertainment on show.

By now, fans have usually bolted in much more excessive numbers than that.

In Coventry, for example, fans tired of watching a team flirt with relegation in five straight seasons.
Coventry fans from the 2007/08 season to the 2011/12 season witnessed: 41 home wins, 37 draws and 37 losses for a home winning percentage of 36 per cent. They scored 133 goals in 115 games for an average of 1.16 goals per game.

At the start of that run, Coventry averaged 20,342 fans per game at home. Last season, they ended their first year in League One averaging 10,950.

This is what happens when teams go from bad to worse. Except in Toronto, where an amazingly large number of fans continued to show up despite having a remarkably similar home league record in their first seven seasons than Coventry had in the Championship: 36 wins, 39 draws and 36 losses good for a winning percentage of 32 per cent. They scored 135 goals in those 111 games – an average of 1.21 goals per game.

Many people discussed the rise of red seats not being filled at games, but you know the the real story was how many were still being sat in. You know if you don't get this right quickly, more and more seats will stay empty for a long time.

Yet, on the field you are in charge of selling Coventry City-type talent and performances to potential new signings. You know much of the sales pitch must be directed away from what has happened on the field in the past seven years.

You can talk of the turnaround in form near the end of the season and, while looking ahead, the need for continuity on the bench with Ryan Nelsen. But who are we kidding here? You are trying to attract high-calibre, international players to a team that would have struggled in the third tier of English football in the last couple of seasons. But this is where you come in. This is where you become the X-factor.

You talk of Toronto with a passion that would make even the most negative Torontonians realize their city is actually half-decent. For a country, and a city, that is so wonderful, your ambassadorial style is a breath of fresh air. Toronto and Canada are an easy sell, but the team is the exact opposite.

You can talk about a bright future but, in reality, if you are from a club who has been as bad as TFC has, you usually wouldn't get past the door, let alone to the negotiation table.

Except you are shopping with very deep pockets. You work for a company that is paying a basketball player called "Rudy" over $340,000 US per week.

English newspapers this week called Jermain Defoe's potential TFC wages of 90,000 pounds per week (approx $145,000 US) ‘incredible,' but in reality, they are nothing more than a first-liner on the Leafs or a starter on the Raptors can make. You know the money plays a massive part in trying to persuade a talent like Defoe to come to Toronto, but you also know there are few players in a position in their careers who will accept such an offer.

Players past their best, looking for a pension? A dime-a-dozen.

Genuine Premier League or Serie A goal-scorer,s at a good age, who could play for at least half of the teams in that league if they offered the money you can afford? Absolutely perfect.

That is what the DP is for. You have listened to fans worry about service for these strikers, but you have been here long enough now to have watched every current Toronto FC forward miss chances.

You know the hardest thing to do in the game is score goals.

When you work for MLSE and you have a soccer club in desperate need of help, it is very easy to throw money at old international players and hope for the best. While this team was playing like Coventry the past seven years, they have already had too many of them.

No, this time it has to be right and you know it. The Daily Mirror can call the wages ‘incredible' all they want, but you know they could be more if it were the right player. Subsequently, you know you could increase the wages and many stars would not leave the heights of Champions League football to come to MLS, even for Rudy Gay money.

It appears you are closing in on Defoe and Alberto Gilardino and, if that is the case, they need to be signed. The fact that such players are even considering it is, of course, a step in the right direction since, after all, you know they wouldn't go to Coventry even if Man City's owners bought them tomorrow. However, you also know how bad it would be if players like these say no. The next level, where hundreds of players are waiting to accept your cash, is not an area you want to invest in.

These two giant DP pieces of the TFC puzzle remain left in your hands. You know this is the area created by the league to give the mega-rich owners a significant advantage over the simply rich, slightly tighter, owners.

In this game, there are no poor crosses, there is no bad defending or weak finishing. This is a game where Toronto FC are finally superior than most. This is a game you have to win. 



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