Spanish football has been the talk of the town for the better part of the last 10 years. Between Real Madrid's Galacticos project, the dominance of Ronaldinho at Barcelona, Valencia's UEFA Champions League run(s), the emergence of FC Barcelona as the world's greatest side, and the national team, oh, the Spanish national team, the world has been introduced to a fresh brand of football once again!
Winners of the EURO Cup in 2008; repeaters of the title in 2012; FIFA World Cup Champions in South Africa in 2010 - Spain has ruled the roost in international football and they've done it all with a mix of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid players.
The most heated rivalry in the world of football, El Clasico, sees plenty of red cards, tackles, and bad blood, yet, when the two sides are combined, somehow, somehow, magic is made. Can we hope to replicate these results in Toronto?
What if we were to split Toronto FC into Madridistas and Blaugranas? Could Toronto FC rise to the top of MLS on these lines alone? Perhaps. It's a project I have undertaken this offseason. It's time to draw the line in the camp.
During Toronto FC Media Day, I asked several players about their allegiances in La Liga, and got plenty of interesting results. Take a gander, dear reader, and see that your Toronto Football Club may just be the next Spanish national outfit.
"Barcelona," said Torsten Frings, with a reserved smile. It's a question he hasn't been asked before in Toronto. His opinion of the classic encounter brings a smile to an otherwise stern demeanour.
Perhaps he's a fan of a German outfit? I took a chance, and asked him which team was his favourite boyhood club.
Again: "Barcelona" - again, a smile. He's Blaugrana, through and through.
While Frings was pointed in his answer, goalkeeper Stefan Frei was much more detailed. When the question was posed, Frei wrinkled his face, sighed, and replied with eloquence.
"It's a tough one, you know, like Madrid's good; Barcelona is...I'm going to say, better right now," said Frei. "When I watch the two, I root for Madrid because I come across so many Barcelona bandwagon fans that just hopped on and it really ticks me off, "Yeah, I've been a Barcelona fan forever!" It's like, no, you've just been a Barcelona fan since they started being good, and I really don't like that."
"Following Ronaldo throughout his career, I've been very impressed with him; I think he's come along really well and I really like the fact that he's getting more recognition as a team player lately. You see commentators picking up on his run that he makes, 90 yards away from goal, to get to that goal; I think that's huge," he continued.
Impressed by Ronaldo, and not impressed with the antics of the new generation of Barcelona fans, Frei firmly stays in the Madrid camp. The wheels of success are already turning; a Madridista in net, and a Barcelona fan in the midfield? Sound familiar?
Iker Casillas and Andreas Iniesta certainly share accolades when wearing the Red shirt of Spain. Perhaps Frei and Frings, too, will share the same.
One has to ask the younger players of their preference, and with such a heavy focus on youth over in Barcelona, the expected answer is that of blue and red. However, Toronto FC's newest draft pick Emery Welshman takes a different approach:"It's an interesting question for me because I would say I liked Barcelona better but everyone is jumping on the Barcelona bandwagon now, so I'm just going to say Real Madrid," said Welshman.
Richard Eckersley would disagree. He chose Barcelona. Many players did.
Justin Braun? Barcelona. Why? "I think Messi's the best, and I like the way Xavi plays."
Logan Emory? Barcelona again. "I think Barcelona's the best team in the history of the world," he said.
Jeremy Hall, Joe Bendik, Gale Agbossoumonde, Quillan Roberts? You guessed it! FC Barcelona.
Luis Silva summed up the love for Barcelona as simply as possible: "It's a good football they play."
It was a bit disheartening, seeing how one-sided the results became, but then again, it's symbolic for the latest round of Spain's roster. Besides Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, Barcelona players dominated Spain in 2012: Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andreas Iniesta, David Villa, and Cesc Fabregas all don the colours of Barcelona.
Just when it seemed that Barcelona would overpower Madrid, Reggie Lambe came in and saved the day. "I can not even answer that question because I'm a Valencia fan, so I'll say Valencia," said Lambe, the wisest player in the bunch. While Spain may claim they're a mix of Barca and Madrid, the reality is that the core of Spain's offense is born and bred in Valencia.
David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata, Raul Albiol and Carlos Marchena are crucial pieces to Spain's global domination. They are products of Valencia, sold off to the highest bidder. In picking Valencia, Reggie Lambe gives Toronto FC the underappreciated but immeasurably important key to success, which we'll call the Valencia factor - the great equalizer, a mediator amongst two heated passions.
So Toronto FC isn't as even a split as we would have liked. The majority of the players like FC Barcelona, while Real Madrid hasn't earned much favour anymore. Had we asked this question during the Galacticos era, perhaps we would have had different answers.
What we know for sure, now, is that the line between the players has been drawn. We've exposed the Madridistas in the camp. Tensions will surely be high!
It will all be worth it, though, when Toronto FC picks up the MLS Cup in 2013 and adds the CONCACAF Champions League in 2014. When they do, they'll share a common trait amongst each other and with their footballing counterparts in Spain.
They'll be doing so wearing red.