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Buying Wins in Toronto?

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Toronto FC Claim Title as “World’s Most Expensive Underdogs”

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

If you caught Kurt Larson’s article in the Toronto Sun Wednesday morning, you may have an opinion or two about Tim Leiweke, Joey Saputo, and the Haves versus Have Nots in Major League soccer. Whatever your thoughts on where big spending will take MLS in the next several years, one thing can’t be argued - Toronto FC are the league’s biggest spenders for the second year running.

Between Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley (at their reported figures), TFC is spending more on three players than the Colorado Rapids are spending on their entire roster this year. TFC, by virtue of MLSE and the incredible financial clout they have, are the most ‘Have’ team in MLS.

Of course, the supporters play into that as well - something Joey Saputo laments terribly. TFC is expecting season seat renewals even still, and they’re expecting to sell a reported 4,000 more. With the BMO expansion, a potentially lucrative shirt sponsorship - whether with BMO or otherwise - and a $50 Million revenue projection for 2015, there’s no real limit to what TFC can spend.

MLS and its shadowy rules about allocation money notwithstanding, eight years of poor table position and missed playoffs ought to have netted Tim Bezbatchenko and Greg Vanney with a considerable stockpile of ‘Garberbucks’. Between the sizeable non-DP contracts of Steven Caldwell, Damien Perquis, Benoit Cheyrou, Jackson and Robbie Findley, Bezbatchenko’s experience in the League Office and ‘cap-ology’ has likely been in full force.

All of this, of course, comes with one major "but": If TFC don’t make the playoffs, and beyond that, if TFC don’t do well in the playoffs, this is another unmitigated disaster. Furthermore, there’s the fans. I’ve spoken to a handful of supporters who feel that the exorbitant spending detracts from the on-field problems. What happened to tactical acumen and smart signings? The easy answer is that TFC never had either, but that’s not especially helpful.

In soccer - in all sports, but especially in soccer - the underdog narrative is salient, resonant, and incredibly fun. When Bradford City beats Chelsea in the FA Cup - that’s where the power of sport is most alive. The combined joy of those supporting the surprise winners and the schadenfreude for the inglorious losers is as sweet as any derby win. TFC, despite their history, have never been underdogs. The free-spending nature of the club has not equaled success in anything but the marketing department.

In spite of all that, the fact of the matter that people seem to dodge around is that TFC is almost out of time. The massive amounts of money - both spent and earned - will keep the club from going Chivas on us, but a lack of success starts to tell. Ask Joey Saputo about that. TFC is being kept alive by the supporters. Frankly, after all this time if money can buy them love, I’m not one to argue. MLS faithful knew that Manchester City would be joining the league this year - their partnership with NYCFC and the Lampard Saga notwithstanding - but their pay-to-win strategy has been adopted in Toronto.