Toronto FC released the schedule for the remaining 4 Concacaf Champions League games today, along with pricing for the three home games. I'll get into the pricing later, but will start with the schedule. Adding in the 6 games all together is obviously going to make the rest of the season very congested, especially with MLS taking the laudable decision to respect the FIFA international dates and give all teams a week off here and there.
The busy end to August, Thursday in Panama, Sunday in Chicago, Wednesday and Saturday in Toronto, we already knew about. After the international break in the first week, September trumps that stretch with a 7 games in 22 days run from the 10th to the 1st of October, alternating between MLS and CCL games starting in Columbus before making the trip down to Mexico to face Pumas on Wednesday the 14th. That's followed by a home game against the Rapids, then we face Tauro at home on Tuesday the 20th before a trip to LA to play Chivas. Then it's back to Toronto for a game against Pumas UNAM, and then New York at home on the 1st of October. The last CCL game is October 18th, away at Dallas, which is sandwiched between games in Philadelphia and home against New England to finish the season. So that''s another copuple of long flights down south added in, it would have been good to have scheduled either Dallas or Pumas around the Chivas away game, but I imagine there's a lot to take into account for these things so it's never going to turn out perfect.
The good news is that unlike LA, Dallas, Colorado and Seattle, TFC isn't trying to compete in both competitions, so can take the opportunity to rest players in MLS games to focus on the chance of progressing past the group stage for the first time. But will Aron Winter actually do that? So far this year, even in the middle of important Voyageurs Cup ties, or the CCL qualifier against Real Esteli, Winter has played full strength teams in the league and any squad rotation has actually happened in the cup competitions. Maybe it's just been very good judgement of the quality of opposition, as with a little luck against Vancouver, it's worked very well to get us to this point. From here on in though, as well as the competition itself being more relevant to any measure of success the season may have, the opposition is a much higher level.
Mexican side Pumas UNAM and FC Dallas are both much better than TFC on paper, so TFC will need to be at their strongest to get points against either side, which makes the seemingly more winnable games against Tauro FC all the more crucial. Hopefully all 6 of these games will be treated as a priority, with the MLS games reserved for experimentation, testing all the new signings to see who can make the team next year.
Over the last 3 years of CCL play, over 12 groups in the group stages, the minimum required to clinch 2nd place has been 8 points, with 10 points being the most frequent number needed, so let's say we'll need 3 wins and a tie, and hope it works out from there. For me, I'd say the home game against Tauro has to be seen as an automatic win if we're going to have any hope of qualifying, which leaves us needing to find 2 other wins and a draw from what will be 5 tough games. If I were to guess at what we'd end up with, I'd say 2 draws and 3 defeats in those 5, which would leave us with 5 points, nowhere near enough. We need to turn those 2 ties into wins and one of the defeats into ties to reach that 10 point level.
For me the 2 first games will be the most important for TFC, as they are the 2 most winnable, home against Dallas and away to Tauro. If we can get off to a good start and get 6 points from those games, we'd be in a great position, probably needing only 1 point from the 2 games against Pumas UNAM and the Dallas away game. If we don't get those 6 points, or at the very least 4, that's going to leave us needing a win from one of those 3 very tough games, and while nothing's impossible, after all we got 4 points off Cruz Azul last year, that would be a tough task, and could kill off any excitement for the later games.
Buliding excitement for these games wasn't really helped by the ticket pricing put out by TFC. Whereas Seattle have general admission tickets for $15 to all their 3 home games, TFC have kept prices pretty much in line with the regular season prices. Many people were hoping that prices would be greatly reduced to draw a bigger, more supportive crowd to help the team in their efforts. This would have also helped rebuild what must be a very precarious relationship between the Front Office and Season Seat holders before the renewal period for 2012 season tickets comes up, and would have had the side benefit of increased merchandise and refreshment sales to make up for what may have been lost in ticket revenue.
Instead what we got is details of pricing that for season ticket holders isn't that bad, at least in the supporters section or light grey seats, and if you're buying a pack for all 3 games. Other seats though are still fairly expensive, in no way giving any kind of sense of appreciation to season ticket holders who might be thinking they've already spent too much on TFC this season. As for trying to entice new customers who haven't been able to get season tickets yet, well they get to spend a little more, and just check out the face value, which is presumably what will be charged for individual game tickets, $24 - $89. The Real Esteli game saw a very poor attendance, round about 10,000, and these prices mean we'll be looking at more of the same.
Maybe they were spooked by FC Dallas' experience in their CCL qualifier where despite an 'every seat for $15' deal and a 24 hour sale where they were only $5, they still drew a very small crowd. If they think pricing isn't the problem, it's performance, and that fans enthusiasm will return with a winning team, then I guess it makes sense to take the short term hit to maintain the price points for when TFC gets popular again. It's a plausible strategy, but given the history of other once popular Toronto teams, it's a very risky gamble. For a lot of fans, it's not simply about price, or about winning, but a sense of appreciation and co-operation that's been missing for a long time, and this does nothing to mend that. Well done MLSE, that's another blown opportunity