It wasn’t pretty… but it worked

If you ever played in competitive tournaments, you probably had a teammate who obsessively tabulated exactly what results were needed in upcoming games in order for your team to advance. Well, on my team, that was me. So trust me that beyond the symbolism involved, last night’s unexpected draw with Cruz Azul was very big. I’ll get to the numbers in a moment.

But first, a question… seriously, Toronto FC, can you make up your damned minds, already? Can you decide whether we’re supposed to hate you or love you? (Or, at least, can you stick with the decision for more than a few days at a time?)

The disastrous 1-0 defeat to DC United… the long-awaited firing of Mo Johnston… the 4-1 shellacking at Salt Lake… the last-second 2-1 victory at Houston… the not-unexpected rise in ticket prices… a historic 0-0 result at Cruz Azul… and this is in a week and a half.

No wonder the average sports fan is ambivalent towards the team — they just don’t have the time to wrap their heads around what the hell is going on.

Oh, sorry, silly me. What am I saying? Toronto is feverish about its Major League Soccer team. Thousands upon thousands of rabid soccer fans would sell their organs for the mere blessed chance to see TFC play live. That’s why BMO Field is always full, and the jacked-up ticket prices are justified, right?

In case sarcasm isn’t your first language, a decoder: The rise in season-ticket prices (combined with such cynical elements of the new package, such as the mandatory inclusion of tickets to this year’s MLS Cup) is not justified. Like most, I assume that this mystical, much-ballyhooed waiting list of fans desperately clamouring to get into BMO Field is bullshit.

It has to be. Seeing what this team has done in its four years of existence (run through four head coaches and over 80 players, without a playoff appearance to speak of), who in their right mind could believe there are thousands of people out there chomping at the bit for the privilege of paying about $2,000 for season seats to watch the Reds?

So Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has to be very, very careful with how they proceed. The success of this team off the field — which is predicated, thus far, on its ability to market BMO Field as an exciting place to be — is built upon the atmosphere created by the supporters groups. And these folks are pissed.

Whether it’s sincere outrage or just posturing, many of them are claiming that they’ll be dropping their season tickets, prior to the start of season five. When you consider that the price of their tickets will be about twice as much as it was heading into the 2007 season — combined with the various, well-documented issues with BMO Field security during games, and the economic realities of the present day — you can see where they’re coming from.

Of course, as is always the case… winning cures all.

A rise in season ticket prices would be easier to swallow if the team weren’t in September, desperately clawing for points in a (probably) ultimately futile attempt to sneak into the MLS playoffs… or, perhaps, if the fans weren’t expecting that, heading into 2011, the team may be looking to adjust to its sixth head coach (though Nigel Reed, indirectly, suggests Nick Dasovic should stay on in that role).

But amidst the normal September malaise, fueled by a seemingly wasted domestic campaign, turmoil in the front office and the bench, uncertainty about the future and outright disrespect by ownership, there is one key difference for fans of Toronto FC.

The real possibility of our own big-stadium winter-time soccer sellout.

As of this writing (Wednesday morning), the Group A standings in the CONCACAF Champions League:
Cruz Azul 7, Salt Lake 6, Toronto 4, Arabe Unido 3.

Tonight, Toronto FC fans will be hoping and praying for the Panamanian side to take full points at home against the boys from Utah. Should that happen, we’re looking at:
Cruz Azul 7, Salt Lake 6, Arabe Unido 6, Toronto 4

Looks dire, right? But next week, Cruz Azul will surely beat Arabe Unido in Mexico (they beat them 6-0 in Panama, after all). So if Toronto can pull off a home victory against Salt Lake on Tuesday, here we go:
Cruz Azul 10, Toronto 7, Salt Lake 6, Arabe Unido 6

All of a sudden, TFC is in control of its own destiny. If those three results happen, all that will be standing between Toronto FC and the Champions League quarterfinals would be a victory at home, on the chilly Toronto waterfront, in mid-October, against a team from Panama.

The first leg of the quarterfinal would take place in late February; the second leg, early March. Much like Montreal in 2009, Toronto would be unable to host the game at its usual home stadium.

Ergo, you’ve got Toronto FC playing in a very meaningful game at the SkyDome, with a capacity approaching 60,000 people. Getting excited yet?

Montreal drew over 55,000 people to its Champions League quarterfinal against Santos Laguna. How they came to that figure — discounted tickets, tickets given away — is irrelevant; watching any video of the match, it’s clear the stadium is packed.

Could Toronto do the same? I would certainly hope so. For a city that blabs about its alleged world-class nature, its vast and sophisticated base of soccer fans, and its supposed status as a “good” sports city (an assertion I would refute, but let’s just go with it), it’d be an absolute embarrassment for there to be vast swathes of empty seats at a match of this marquee value, featuring the local team.

Then again, maybe that’s what needs to happen.

Maybe seeing a half-empty SkyDome is the only thing that will get MLSE to realize that it can’t take its existing fanbase for granted… that it simply can’t continue to squeeze every possible penny out of the loyal supporters that have made TFC into a profitable enterprise in the first place… that it needs to focus on building a winning team before it can focus on building more seats at BMO Field.

A full SkyDome… well, it’s a cool, unprecedented moment in Toronto soccer history. Maybe it gets MLSE off the hook, but it gives us all a memory we won’t soon forget. (And, hopefully, it propels the team into the CCL semi-finals). So, kind of a win-win.

But before that win-win could happen, there need to be four more wins.

First up, tonight: As much as you may loathe the diving, cheating pricks from Arabe Unido, a victory tonight would really, really help Toronto FC’s chances.

It’s worth noting that if you thought last night’s game was ugly… Arabe Unido’s attempts to get a full three points tonight will probably make TFC’s draw look like a work of art.

But hey, it doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to work.

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6 Responses to “It wasn’t pretty… but it worked”

  1. Kevin Smith Says:

    Obviously there’s a lot of variables in play here. A lot of different possibilities.

    However, TFC does have an advantage. Their last 2 games are the easiest of the 6. At home against RSL, and then at home against Arabe.

    I’d assume RSL will take (at least) a point from Arabe, but won’t get any points in Mexico. So that’d leave them on 7 pts. If we assume that TFC can beat Arabe in Toronto, that’d give them 7 pts.

    So it really does all come down to that RSL @ TFC game. A draw might be enough, but they wouldn’t want to take that chance. They’d then have to beat Arabe by several goals (although not necessarily – TFC just needs +4 goals, whether they get +1 vs Arabe, or whether Cruz Azul gets +3 against RSL).

    Anyways, it’s really too complicated. At this point, Arabe could still qualify, along with Cruz Azul. That’d be amusing, in a sad way.

    • Oh trust me, I’ve mulled over all of this. And if AU does somehow protect their home turf tonight and take the win against RSL, things begin to look pretty good for TFC.

      One thing, though — RSL’s remaining game against Cruz Azul is at Rio Tinto, which increases (to some degree) the likelihood that they may pick up at least a point.

  2. If you boil it down to the most predictable outcomes (unlike last night’s draw, yippee!!), we wind up with RSL ahead, followed by Cruz and TFC tied on points, but with Cruz way out in front on GD.

    So, RSL must lose BIG to TFC if we are to see both advance.

    • ^actually Toronto beats CA in the tie break. The only bad scenario is if all RSL, TFC and CA tie at 10 pts – then tie breaker is GD in which Toronto loses.
      Assuming TFC wins both its games and the likely scenario of every team beating up on Arabe then it boils down to the RSL vs CA match. As long as that game does not end in a tie TFC is thru.

  3. Wonderful blog. I hadn’t even THOUGHT of a SkyDome quarter-final CONCACAF Champion’s League game *salivates*

    But alas… RSL won today… Our chances are still okay I guess. We just have to win both of our games and hope Cruz Azul beats RSL. The problem is that beating RSL is not going to be easy for anyone. This includes us and even includes Cruz Azul who struggled with RSL at home, only beating them in that electric 5-4 match.

    Sadly, we are in the same place in the CCL as we are in the MLS season. We have to win every single one of our remaining games AND need to hope for some specific results in games that don’t involve us. This is never a good place to be…

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