Beneath the Headlines - A New Beginning for TFC in the Local Soccer Scene

Frustrated? Just wait... - Victor Decolongon

Star-studded headlines are great, but is there a quiet revolution underway?

The past two weeks have seen a flurry of activity in Toronto highlighted by the return of the prodigal son, Dwayne De Rosario, and the Bloody-Big-Double-Euro Swoop for Jermaine Defoe and Michael Bradley, from Tottenham and Roma respectively.

Many will see this as the beginning of a new era, perhaps rightly so – time, of course, will tell.

But for all the words spoken and ink spilled, there was one line that rung as the most important.

It was something Tim Bezbatchenko said at the De Rosario press conference, when discussing the signing of Jordan Hamilton, the club’s ninth homegrown academy graduate –

"The Canadian soccer pool is very rich, especially in the GTA; I think we have untapped resources. We brought on Greg Vanney, who will help lead our academy.

"We’re really excited about his ability to reach out to the community, to the local clubs and start developing relationships and helping develop those players. There’s no shortage of players in the Canadian pool; we’re going to be working with the CSA and the Canadian national team, all together, to make sure when the next World Cup rolls around Canada is there."

A lofty goal to say the least; Vanney’s role in crafting those ties with the local soccer community and creating goodwill with a grassroots scene that has felt, at times, marginalized by the machinations of a poorly run club, will be of the utmost importance for the future of Toronto FC.

For all the good intentions that the club has had through its various regimes, with the goal of bridging the gap between the youth amateur level and the professional game, thereby providing an apex to the soccer pyramid in the city, it has failed to really connect with the roots of the game in Toronto.

The Club Affiliate Program sounds like a great idea, but it never really flourished as it should have.

The TFC Academy has added younger teams over the years, reaching more and more players, and of course it is way too early to judge it as success or failure, but the constant rumblings of tensions with the wider scene leave much to be desired.

The Training Ground, as a centre of development, is stunning and their work in rejuvenating various fields around town is commendable, but there is always more that can be done.

Bezbatchenko hit on a few key points in his brief mission statement – plus the local vernacular of ‘GTA’ indicates how he is ingraining himself in the culture of the area (or at least wants to appear to be). It’s only a matter of time before he drops that second, useless and awkward ‘T’.

Toronto is widely considered to be one of the best catchment areas on the continent, right up there, if slightly behind hot beds like Los Angeles and New York, and if the force of that power is properly harnessed it can only be good for the game and the club, not to mention the players and fans alike, after all who doesn’t love a hometown hero.

Signings, presidents, and general managers will come and go. Press conferences end, as do advertising campaigns – no matter how clever they are - but should the club really forge links, not just with the ticket-buying fans, but with the soccer community as a whole, this really could be the beginning of a new day at a club that has bumbled its way through the first seven years of its existence.

The stars on the pitch and the latest score will always grab the headlines in this world of today, but establishing the proper institutional organization and outreach to affect change is what will truly prove a revolution for the club.

Canadian soccer needs its clubs to step up to the plate.

Toronto has done well, despite clumsy approaches in the past; if, as Bezbatchenko hopes, Vanney can develop and extend the club’s tentacles throughout the region things can only get better.

But, of course, time will tell whether this truly is a new beginning, or just another false start.

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