There are very few things that can give consolation to long suffering Toronto FC fans, but a consistent one over the years has been the ability to look over to the Western Conference and think, well at least we're not Chivas USA fans. Let's not kid ourselves though, I'm sure they're doing the exact same thing, using TFC as a sign that it could be worse. Since TFC's introduction to the league in 2007, there have been other teams that have struggled on the pitch, other teams that have fought with their fans and other teams that have taken a shot at the crazy crown, Philadelphia 2012 I'm, looking at you. But for all round, consistent, year after year, self defeating suckitude, there's only two contenders.
In honour of their only meeting of the season (unless we get the ultimate surprise MLS Cup final) Alicia Ratterree of The Goat Parade and myself argue our respective teams' merits over 5 categories. Read what we have to say and cast your vote to decide just which team is MLS' most dysfunctional.
Chivas USA: Had co-owners throughout their history, the Cue brothers and Jorge Vergara, until last fall, when Vergara and his wife bought out the Cues. One of the key facts from the change? Vergara actually offered the Cues the team, but they didn't have the money to buy him out. That seems to explain a great deal about the big talk and mostly non-existent follow-through. Perhaps the best example this season was when Vergara was supposed to come to a game, as he was in town promoting his herbal supplements empire, and the press was eagerly awaiting his arrival, as he was going to speak to them...and he never showed up. He just left the team's PR holding the bad, trying to explain why the owner couldn't be bothered to come to one lousy game for the team he owns.
Toronto FC: Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. I wouldn't really call them dysfunctional, they're just bad. Well, they're not even bad to be fair, their main priority is making money and they're very good at that, riding that Leafs cash cow hard. They've had very little success with the Leafs or the Raptors and they've kept that streak going no problem with TFC, they are very much an MLSE team. After a few bad years, they admitted their own lack of expertise and brought in Jurgen Klinsmann as a consultant, then totally threw his plan out of the window after a rough start to the following season. There's hope that since they were taken over by Bell and Rogers, two big media companies desperate for content and presumably winning content, that things might change, but since Tim Leiweke was installed as COO, he's seemed almost uniquely focused on bringing in a big name 'Beckham level' player to bring the crowds back, so hopes of a new focus on winning aren't all that high. Still, I think they pale in comparison to Chivas' situation.
2. Coach Turnover:
Chivas USA: Have replaced coaches midseason only twice, in 2005 and 2013, not coincidentally the years in which Vergara was most active with the club. They've had 10 coaches since starting in 2005 (that includes two interim coaches). The longest-tenured manager was Preki, who stuck around a little under three full years. But overall, I think TFC probably have the better case in this category.
Toronto FC: 8 coaches now, halfway through their 7th season, the longest tenure being that of Aron Winter who made it 10 league games into his second season. The only one of them with even a single season of head coaching experience was a guy who'd just been let go by Chivas. Chivas! At least the first few years, the coaches were more or less following the same plan. Since 2010, we've swung from one extreme to the other, Preki's defensive style followed by Aron Winter's expansive Dutch influenced side, to Paul Mariner's 1980's England stylings and now Ryan Nelsen, so far very defensively focused. Of course all those coaches have had different types of players they wanted, which brings us neatly to the next category.
3. Player Turnover:
Chivas USA: Historically, Chivas have had a lot of player turnover. Their longest-tenured player, Jorge Villafana, started with Chivas USA in 2007. Dan Kennedy came to the team in 2008. After that, the player here the longest is Tristan Bowen, who arrived in early 2011. At the moment, 10 players survive from the 2012 team, although many of them haven't been regulars either last season or this.
This year, 27 players have played so far for Chivas, with two more sure to be making their debuts within the next game or two. Only two players on the roster all year have not played a minute, second-string goalkeeper Tim Melia, due to injury, and defender Emilio Orozco. If any more players come in during this transfer window, Chivas could very easily reach the 30 player mark before August.
Toronto FC: Right from the start of their existence with Mo Johnston enthusiastically and quickly trading away a large chunk of his expansion draftees, the revolving door has barely ever stopped, with new coaches bringing in new players and so many trades being made from positions of weakness and need. Our longest serving player Stefan Frei is more than likely to leave the club soon as they look to shed his salary and he's one of only 2 players who were on the books in the 2010 season still with the team. In 2011 they broke the record for most players fielded in a season with 38, 40 in all competitions and it seems like they're having a good go at that record again this year, 28 players have already made league appearances. Of the 24 players currently in the squad, 15 of them have been signed since Kevin Payne took over, with 6 of his signings/loans already shown the door. Just this transfer window, Luis Silva, Danny Califf and Darren O'Dea have all gone and there's all sorts of talk of new players, most notably Diego Forlan. I'd like to think Leiwecke Payne and Nelsen will eventually settle down into a more settled lineup, but so far it's looked like more of the same.
4. Fan relations:
Chivas USA: I'd say things have generally been pretty good, except for the matter of the dwindling support at games, which is beyond embarrassing. People have clearly voted with their wallets about many of the changes this season, leading to fewer and fewer people at the stadium (though to be fair, attendance has increased overall during the course of this season - small consolation, but there ya go).
Oh, and there have been conflicts between the front office and one of the Supporters Groups, the Black Army 1850, who have been very vocal in their opposition to the owner. Even the other SG, the Union Ultras, generally more moderate in their opinions, wrote a protest letter after Chelís was fired. MLS fans, with the support of the Black Army, flew a plane over the stadium in Chivas' last game against the LA Galaxy with the message of "Vergara out." So yeah, when SGs are facing rough sledding, times probably aren't real good at the club.
Toronto FC: Current management hasn't really done much to piss the fans off, though they seem to have a problem judging the mood of the fans. It's not really their fault, it's more about the sins of their predecessors, but after 6 years, and despite ticket prices being reduced to 2007 levels, the general mood of supporters is somewhere between apathy and surliness, and in no mood for nonsense, hype and sizzle. We've been getting plenty of that though, from early season talk of Inukshuks and an attempt at a new slogan 'the red thread binds us all' to the recent hype of a mid season friendly against AS Roma. A special announcement media conference, streamed on the club site to hype it up, and those supporters who don't like it dismissed as a vocal minority. It could definitely be worse though.
5. Media/PR Gaffes:
Chivas USA: If I'm being honest, they are really trying to change the operating procedure at the club. I honestly think the PR is trying to reach out more, and they've been great about letting blogs like The Goat Parade get access.
But...they love sending out press releases with important information late at night (like 8 pm PT) or days after everybody knows about it. They have been releasing press releases and articles on the team's website in English and Spanish, which I think is great...except they need to move away from the google translate-quality translations on the English portions. And they did not do a great job of translating a Spanish term in the preseason, calling training camp "concentration camp" with apparently no awareness of what that term means in English.
Toronto FC: TFC do a few things well, they're quite good at twitter for example, and they seem to treat the media well, but they seem totally unable of avoiding hype, bluster or lies, leading to much cynical eye rolling among any supporter with a shred of original thinking. The current regime is just as guilty, Kevin Payne hyping up Tal Ben Haim as 'one of the top defenders in the EPL for nearly a decade' for example. Ryan Nelsen continues to assert that the playoffs are a possibility this year, and that our now traditional late game collapses are all about luck. The ugly side of this desire to always put the brave face on things has been seen recently. It was explained that Danny Califf had to retire due to injury, something Califf very much denied in a letter to the fans. It was explained that Darren O'Dea had received an offer from Ukraine that he just had to take, only for O'Dea to tweet that this clearly wasn't his idea at all. We get it, the club's struggling, we're rebuilding and there's tough decisions to be made, but please just start telling us things straight.
There's the evidence from both sides, vote for who you think deserves the championship belt in the poll below and tell us why, or what we've missed in the comments section.