I had the pleasure of attending the first in a series of four Town Halls on Monday night. If you've ever wondered what happens in events like these, take a walk in my shoes through this personal timeline.
4:34 pm - Had to cut a team meeting short in order to make the 20 km commute from Warden Ave to BMO in under an hour. They called it the mistake by the lake for a reason. Oh, why oh why did that York University deal fall through? There is a blog waiting to be written about this convenient location.
4:36 pm - My GPS says that going down the DVP is going to be quicker despite the traffic. I once said to my wife, I like the GPS lady, if I pick a route other than the one she recommends, she never says I told you so if it doesn't work out. Yeah. I only ever said that once.
5:16 pm - Streaming music through my iPhone and on comes "Legend TFC". How fitting is this? Brings back a lot of memories, most of them good. How did we get to this point?
5:31 pm - My question is answered as I'm in my car wolfing down a sandwich when I see Tom Anselmi, or his stunt double, leaving BMO.
5:42 pm - I arrive to be greeted by an Account Rep. Everything is professional and well organized. I really feel for these Reps, not an easy job. I get two free beer tickets and am pointed to the all you can eat chicken wings. Is this heaven?
5:49 pm: I grab a seat and begin a conversation with two fans seated next to me. Miran, has been a season ticket since year one. It's his second town hall and he came hoping to hear the direction of the team. Ideally, where the money is being allocated, what they are doing for scouting and what kind of system they will use. Like most of us, he found that Winter explained where he was going and he had a vision that Miran could believe in. He found it very frustrating watching route 1 football under Mariner and doesn't feel that style of play works in this league. He has already renewed and shared the belief that one management group will eventually make a difference, he nervously wonders whether this will be the one.
5:51 pm: Next to him is Dan, a recent season ticket holder having just moved to the area 2 years ago. I tell Dan who I write for and ask him why he's here. In essence, he wants to hear the plan, if there is a plan, and form his own opinion, instead of reading our stuff (smile). He has renewed a couple of weeks ago. I ask him if price was a consideration to which he replies that it wasn't. In his words, "this is my team and I am going to be here as long as I can afford to be here."
6:07 pm: The group of Paul Beirne, Paul Mariner, Earl Cochrane and Thomas Rongen assembles at the front. Dan Dunleavy is the Emcee and calls the audience to take a seat. However, most are reluctant to move forward, maybe it's the free beer at the back. Polite applause greets the participants.
6:11 pm: Paul Mariner offers opening remarks. He says he's delighted to be head coach of football club and very excited to be here.
I actually believe him.
6:12 pm: Mariner adds that it is massive to be at a club like Toronto. He equates it with managing at Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea.
I don't believe him anymore.
6:13 pm: The first question comes forward. A fan notes that Aron had his vision for total football and asks, "does the system come first or does the player come first?"
Mariner replies that the players dictate the system though he absolutely hasn't abandoned the pillars. He maintains that you've got to find the right system for the right players and highlights that over a portion of the season they sort of did it. In his words, "rest assured you will definitely see us playing bright, attractive football on the front foot." He insists we are 4 players away from greatness. His hope is to keep players fit and injury free.
6:19 pm: As I wonder to myself about the ability to keep 3 aging, recent hospital patients injury free, one of the best follow up questions of the night comes forward. It is a question directed at Mariner and goes a little something like this.
If we were only 4 players away last year, why couldn't we maintain the pillars, even when the DPs were healthy? You have said we have committed a lot of salary already so with the salary cap, these 4 won't be major players.
I bite my tongue on the salary "cap" notion and wait to see how this question will be answered. Mariner, in my opinion, dances around it. He highlights that most of players that filled in couldn't play attractive football. He assures us that there are good players out there in and they are in the budget and highlights that they will be impact players.
6:22 pm: One of my favourite topics comes up, scouting. A fan highlights that when he reviews TFC's management structure, he doesn't see any scouts listed. He asks for specifics.
Paul responds to this question by saying that the team is very fortunate in that it has a generous budget for scouts, and mentions a person in Mexico, Central America and Europe. Surprisingly, it isn't the same person.
He then highlights that as a team, he likes his back line to speak English but that it is less important as they move up the pitch.
This strikes me as curious. With apologies to Irish, I'm not sure that I would understand Darren O'Dea if he tells me that the last time we played a team, we really hockeyed them out of it, they haven't got a baldy as their coach is half a bubble off true but be dog wide, you know, just in case.
6:27 pm: A question is raised as to how the new business owners are supporting the club.
Paul Beirne takes this one and highlights that it has been a bit of a shift. In his opinion, the new owners are using much stronger language and offering clear perspective. There is only one measure of success, winning.
6:33 pm: My mind starts to wander a little as the answers seem to resemble a political debate in that they sound good but there isn't much substance. How did REM come up with the lyrics, "Birthday party cheesecake, jelly bean, boom?"
6:43 pm: A question comes forward that brings me out of the 80's and back to the situation. Joao Plata and the Mellberg situation.
No one wanted to touch the Mellberg situation and that is understandable. In case you missed it, we did months ago. The league killed the deal and given the league's political power, TFC will need to figure out how to lobby the league successfully in order to move its plans forward. Nothing more to say here, it is the reality of the MLS ownership structure.
As for Plata, Mariner highlighted that in his view Plata is a one in six games kind of guy. Meaning he has one solid game out of six. He is young and just wasn't consistent. He says that they discussed the fastest learning curve for him and felt that sending him back to his home club would offer the potential for more consistency in his game. He reiterates that Plata is still under contract to TFC.
Sigh. How do you sign a guy in January and then deem him expendable shortly thereafter? More to this story but what's the point really?
6:50pm - I put my pen down. I'm not negative. I'm not inspired. I'm just becoming aware that I came in as a skeptic and will go out as one too. A few more questions are asked and the evening ends just after 7:00.
On my way out, I'm sure to thank the Ticket Reps for putting the evening together and for all that they do over the course of the season. In my view, these are top notch folks who genuinely care about what they do.
Did it make up my mind to renew?
I went to this event having already renewed my seats. I didn't do this based on price nor in the belief in our current management. I did this based on my love for football and the joy I get in sharing an afternoon in the sun with family and friends. I believe that the current management team is genuine in their desire to turn this around and that they actually believe that they can do it.
I'm not so sure but I hope that they can prove me wrong.