It didn't quite need security to jump in, but it was close. - Will Russell
Tonight I attended my first ever Toronto FC Town Hall and well, it was an experience. From Avila being like a son who needed a slap, to the fight that almost broke out, to the possibility of Marvel Wynne returning - you almost had to be there. Luckily for you, I was.
The TFC Town Hall is an interesting place; everyone wanders into the Rogers Lounge (it's tres swanky), grabs their beverage of choice - two drink tickets provided for you! Silly TFC, buzzed fans ask bold questions - and some wings or nachos if the mood strikes you. I opted for a beer and nibbled on some veggies - yeah, I'm classy like that.
It wasn't a huge crowd, maybe 30 or 40 people and no one seemed particularly riled up nor particularly happy shiny either. Dan Dunleavy opened the show with a comment about Rachel having to leave - some half-hearted booing from some of the men in the audience led to some sniggering like school boys on the platform and I thought to myself; it's going to be one of those nights.
Unlike some of the previous town halls, Paul Mariner made a brief opening speech highlighting that no one is more passionate about the club than they are, that they haven't abandoned the pillars (this is a reoccurring theme) and that he comes from a background of playing attractive football so he knows what that looks like and basically we have to trust him. Alright then.
First question of the night is in regards to what player and style of play they're going to begin the season with is met with a laugh and PM saying "well I hope the entire league is listening; we'll just give them their scouting report right now". The team is in a state of flux; none of this "revolving door crap" that everyone talks about - the players they have will dictate how the team plays...hmm, this sounds familiar.
Mariner was still fairly feisty and if he disagreed with a fan's opinion he said so. I don't know if he was any less feisty than the other nights; I think he could have done away with the "are we watching the same game" type of comments when answering questions but otherwise it was more the answers that he gave than the way he answered that was interesting.
Other than a repeat of several statements from the previous three town halls this week - core players, only 4 players away from competing, scouting in Scandinavia, Lionel Messi's agent scouting in South America and that the refs don't like Eric Hassli - still going on about how the refs don't like him and left him unprotected.
Mariner is obviously a huge fan of Stefan Frei, Richard Eckersley (calls him Eckers), Ashtone Morgan and Darren O'Dea - they more than any other came up as the core players he mentioned (along with the 3 aging and currently still healing DPs). While he did touch on the importance of Danny Koevermans up front and how hard it is to replace the goals he scores he did surprisingly admit that Torsten Frings is the much more easily replaced of the two - but then quickly moved back to how the defence just needs that last piece to make it outstanding.
Thomas Rongen (who is delightful to listen to) waxed fairly eloquently and lengthily about the wonders of the Academy - both the facility and the various programs. He is very passionate and truly feels that the future of both the club and even the Canadian men's program have to do with the teams and players that they are developing through the Academy. He answered a great question about the development gap for players in that middle ground between the Academy and the first team and what could be done to find them more playing time. He acknowledged that there is an issue and that they're in talks with other leagues to see what could be done to bridge that gap.
They were asked many times what the plan was if the 3 DPs went down to injury next year and beyond - the only answer was yes, they have a plan. The most specific they got was that other players would need to step up. Enlightening!
And while not as extensive an answer as at previous Town Halls, we were again told that the kids didn't get played through the back end of the season when injuries were mounting and the season was lost because Paul didn't want to "embarrass the youngsters in a situation where they were over their heads". As this was asked towards the end there was no time for a follow-up to what was again a frustrating answer - shouldn't they be gaining valuable experience? Isn't that why they're with the first team and on the subs bench? Sigh.
Other than the rehashing of the same themes from throughout the week, there were several notable things that stood out on the night. A player that seems to have been cast aside; a player going out on loan, a former Red on the radar and in the strangest moment of the night; two fans seemed poised to come to blows over the content of one question.
Early on in the proceedings a fan asked one of the questions I had been hoping someone would bring up - Why was a player like Eric Avila; one who had shown great control, knowledge and skill on the field being essentially wasted by Mariner throughout much of the season? Paul looks at the questioner and asks "Are you a fan?" "Yes" "Are you watching the same games as me?" Not exactly politic Paul...when pressed he explained that he's known Avila since he was a freshman at UC - he likes Eric, thinks of him as a son and sometimes you need to give your son a slap to straighten him up.
Mariner went on to say that he'd been given plenty of chances but his performance in practice and his inconsistencies (no 1 in 6 comment, damn) got him on the bench. And offers that he thinks Eric succumbed to the lure of the city - "the town got to him". Who knew being a hipster would change someone's game?
But the best part of his answer? "You don't get rewarded for shoddy work at your job do you? If you do you work at a pretty shitty place"...oh the rolled eyes and laughter that met that response. Does no one prep Paul for these things? And when asked if Avila was part of the plans for next year Paul defers to Earl - "Eric is out of contract. We're having conversations". Not exactly reassuring...I'd say we just said good-bye to Avila.
In the midst of answering questions about developing players and sending players out on loan came the somewhat surprising revelation that Luis Silva will be heading out on a loan training stint to a 2nd Division team in Frankfurt - which team was not revealed. This loan is not only meant to improve Silva's football skills but also to build his character as a person and a man. Good enough - it's likely that some experience elsewhere before training camp opens on January 19th will do him well.
The very last question of the night actually seemed to take Earl Cochrane aback - a fan brought up that speedy former Red defender Marvell Wynne was now a free agent and asked if there was a chance that he'd be making his way back to Toronto. After asking everyone to put away their phones and turn off their twitter accounts he would only say that they're aware he's available and that they couldn't talk about it. Start the rumour mill everyone...wouldn't that be a tasty backline?
But the event of the night was the almost fight between two fans about half way through the questioning. Two rows ahead of me a fan asked Paul - after prefacing it with don't take offence - why should he be confident in Mariner after his record at Plymouth and the 14 game winless streak here in Toronto. Before Paul could get more than a couple of words out another fan just behind me stood up and started taking the questioner to task. With a shout of "this guy was coached by Bobby Robson" and "they've been here for 10 minutes" and basically trying to shut him down for asking his questions....the moment got a little more worrisome as the space between the two started to narrow and I feared there would be an actual fight.
The two did not have to be restrained, and some loud talking by Mariner managed to deflect some of the attention as he attempted - in his own way - to answer the original question. Other than getting lectured on what it is when a team goes into administration and being told that TFC were really only blown out of one game that he coached this year - I'll pause while you collapse into gales of laughter - he didn't get very far as Dan Dunleavy decided he needed to cut the discussion off completely.
It was an odd situation and an odd night really. There were some great, intelligent questions from the audience and a few that were perhaps more combative than necessary but not a great deal was revealed that we didn't already know. However, I did enjoy the experience; if only to see and hear what's on the minds of my my fellow fans and it is always an interesting experience to be 'up close and personal' with the people that hold our club's fortunes in their hands. Did I walk away convinced that we're on the path to good things, that Mariner is the one to lead us there? No, not entirely - I worry when the coach thinks there was really only one bad game - but as we don't have a choice, we'll see what happens come January 19th when the team comes together for the first time for training camp.