Sigh. It really should come as no surprise after the July 21st game against Chicago was moved, but it looks as if Toronto FC are jumping back on board the midsummer friendly bandwagon, with rumours of a game against Liverpool at the Rogers Centre on that date now getting as far as being all but confirmed by Luke Wileman on twitter. Really, it was as inevitable as it is depressing. Way back in November when the sale of MLSE to Rogers and Bell went through, I blogged for Sportsnet that this really paved the way for TFC to take part in all the big European Superclubs brand building exercises that sweep ubiquitously through North America each summer.
If Toronto FC can provide the competition for free, and only one big appearance fee has to be paid, that will help keep the ticket prices down - at least in the upper bowl, which should lead to a much bigger crowd and sense of occasion. Whereas before TFC would have had to pay the Rogers Centre rental fee, and gave up a share of the concession profits, now, if all that lost profit is actually going to stay under the same cozy corporate umbrella, well then giddy up.
I don't like the idea. I'm very much against mid-season friendlies, but now that this will be a whole lot easier logistically, I'm certain it'll happen. It's a win-win situation, unless you count the actual result.
The last sentence of what I filed "Get ready for TFC 1, random European superclub 6 next summer" was edited out, but my point still gets across. With TFC and Skydome all now part of the same money making machine, well it was obviously going to happen.
When the game against Chicago (you know, an actual league game, with meaning and points riding on it) was moved to September, in the middle of an international break no less, well it was blindingly clear what was going to happen to that weekend, especially after checking the Bluejays schedule and seeing they were conveniently away those days. Though I desperately hoped it wouldn't happen, I knew it was a foregone conclusion. It was just a question of whose marketing campaign TFC and the local media were going to gleefully bend over for.
Over the last couple of weeks, rumours have swirled and popped up on message boards that it was Liverpool, and now all sorts of legitimate journalists are openly talking about it on twitter, so it's probably safe to say it's a done deal aside from the official announcement. Let's hope they weren't waiting for TFC to win a game so they could release it at a time when TFC fans were a little happier. If so, ha-ha on that one. The opposition is the one detail I really don't care that much about. Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona, Juventus, whoever, it's all the same really. What I do care about is TFC, and MLS, and as far as they go, the whole thing's an absolute disgrace.
Conveniently enough for this particular piece of my diatribe, I used to be a Liverpool fan. As a small boy just getting into football, I picked Liverpool as my team to follow. It may have been from watching them win the 1983 milk cup final on tv, or more than likely I just looked at who was top of the table, certainly there was no good reason for it. Disgusting I know, but back off, I was 7. I kept going with that for a few years, and this was back when Liverpool were really Liverpool, the best team in the world, not the bumbling clowns that currently represent them, until in 1987, I started to go watch my nearest football league team, 4th division Darlington. Over the next two years, I went to more and more games and by the end of the 88-89 season Darlington were firmly my number one team. In the penultimate game of that season, I stood on the terraces at Scunthorpe, and watched them lose 5-1 to seal relegation to the Vauxhall Conference. I was hooked.
My point is, I can take crap football. I can take losing. An 0-5 start to the MLS season is annoying, but I'll keep turning up. Emotion is much more important to me than aesthetics , by which I mean the bond between club and fan. I'll keep showing up and cheering you on even if you are losing, just as long as I get the impression that you are actively trying everything you can to win, and that you're not trying everything you can to screw me and other supporters over.
I'll give MLSE credit, they've done a lot of good things and made some serious commitments, building the academy, hiring what must be an expensive management and coaching team, splashing out for 3 dp's. Success has been sporadic at best, but they certainly give the appearance of trying. But then they just can't help themselves from doing things like this, chasing a fleeting cash grab and a bit of reflected glamour and putting the one thing that will really help build their brand, actually winning, or at least making the bloody playoffs, at risk.
Moving the Chicago game to September means TFC will be without the services of, unless things change dramatically in the summer transfer window, Julian de Guzman, Terry Dunfield, Ryan Johnson, quite possibly Ashtone Morgan, Adrian Cann, Dicoy Williams as well. All the players who won't be off playing for their countries now won't be able to take advantage of a rest in what could be a very busy stretch of the season if TFC once again qualifies for the CCL.
And for what? A one time cash grab, and the chance to be part of a minor bit of media excitement that will actually be focussed on Liverpool. Is it really worth it? Liverpool fans will go to support Liverpool, which will be depressing enough on it's own as there'll be enough of them to outnumber any TFC fans that go, but then they'll just keep supporting Liverpool. There's plenty of people that follow both teams, but anyone who doesn't currently care about TFC isn't going to be persuaded by this. As for those that hate Liverpool, well they certainly won't be turned on to following TFC by this.
Your 'eurosnob' types who don't take TFC or MLS seriously will just have their superiority complex reinforced. Liverpool's reserves will no doubt easily beat TFC, and even aside from the result, just by scheduling this game and moving the Chicago game, TFC is showing no respect for itself, those that already think of MLS as Mickey Mouse are given no reason to change their mind.
It's not just TFC of course, most teams within MLS have been doing this for years, and will continue to do it. As the big european clubs look to North America to try and build their brand to be able to even try to keep up financially with the really big clubs, these opportunities are going to keep coming up. Star struck and money blinded, team owners and executives will keep putting aside their teams and leagues dignity to line themselves up as the sacrificial lambs in the branding exercise, to temporarily bask in the European glamour.
The game against L.A at the skydome was a genuine occasion, because it actually mattered, TFC had earned the right to be playing in an important game, it was rightfully hyped up and hopefully it's something that will have attracted new fans. Making the playoffs, that would be a genuine occasion, one made less likely to happen this year by the decision to move the Chicago game to September. This? This will achieve nothing at all. It'll be a fun day out for local Liverpool fans for sure, and make a little bit of money, but is that worth making TFC's league schedule harder, putting even further at risk the chance of success that would actually have a much more positive and long lasting effect.
The 0-5 start is frustrating, confusing and depressing, but this? This is the sort of thing that makes me angry and question my loyalty. Why should I respect TFC or MLS when they don't even respect themselves?