Two things that deserve never to be mentioned again: Last night’s match and Toronto FC fans

Well, say this for MLS Cup 2010….. no one was killed.

So there’s that.

Yay.

Okay.

Sigh, I’ve got to actually talk about this match?

Jesse Hertzberg from offstage: Yes!

Can I trash Toronto too?

Jesse again: Yes, but try talking about soccer first, please.

Deal! Okay, then let’s break this down, shall we?

The on-field action:
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t artistic, but for about one-third of it, it was pretty engrossing, which when you consider the two teams on offer in the conditions at hand, was probably about as good as anyone could’ve asked for. The ending was completely compelling as Dallas attempted to come up with new and creative ways to miss chances. Prior to that, Colorado summoned up the spirit of Pippo Inzaghi in scoring two of the most ludicrous goals in MLS Cup history. If for no other reason, I’ll remember the final for that, which is more than I can say for some of those New England finals, right?

I don’t think I’m alone in saying Conor Casey disgraced himself throughout the match only to be rewarded with that goal and unbelievably the final MVP award (only to have is name screwed-up by the VW flack on stage). Casey was like Claude Lemieux out there – just running around the attacking area in the general direction of the ball and then just elbowing, grabbing, or bodyslamming anything that got in his way. On that first half penalty appeal, Casey clearly committed a foul on the defender before getting hacked down in response. It should’ve been a FK to Dallas and then a yellow card to both participants for the subsequent after-party. But any talk of cards, brings us to one of the final’s true enemies – referee, and I use that term extremely lightly, Baldomero Toledo.

Toledo was a joke. He tried to follow the age-old British maxim of “don’t ruin the occasion” but then in true USSF-fashion, ended up totally ruining the occasion. While Toledo was making his Palin-being-interviewed-Couric-face, Dallas but especially Colorado proceeded to turn the game into slightly better-attended version of a Wednesday night “tilt” between Michigan State and Purdue. For those of you who both missed Sunday’s match and have never watched Big Ten soccer, it was grim. I wouldn’t say that Toledo ruined the match because that would be downplaying the role of the hosts Toronto in the entire mortifying occasion. This brings us to the…

Off-field matters:
Let’s start with Toronto. I know from my family who lived up there that it seems to be an inherently decent place, one filled with decent people like my late great-grandmother, Rose.

That proviso being made, allow me to say that Toronto FC fans are officially the biggest bunch of scum, frauds, jokes, and assholes I’ve ever seen in the history of MLS. Seattle fans, you’re off the hook, and off the hook for a long, long time. Reports claim that many Toronto supporters showed up for kickoff and them almost immediately left in a protest against their owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) for a) forcing them to buy Cup Final tickets as part of their season tix and b) fielding a fairly mediocre team this year. Look, I’m no fan of MLSE, but this was such an unbelievably bit of destructive and malicious behavior by Toronto fans that hopefully it has ensured MLS doesn’t go anywhere near Toronto for an All-Star Game or a Cup Final ever again. Remember when Michael Wilbon said he’d rather go to Beirut than Detroit for a Super Bowl? Well that now applies to Toronto for any major event.

I know TFC fans seem to have this “love the team, hate MLS” perspective on things; but allow me to remind TFC fans that without the much hated MLS and MLSE for that matter, there would be no TFC and they’d be left watching Serbian White Eagles play Metros Croatia in a high school stadium as genocidal scum on both sides attempt to re-live the “good ole’ days back home” in the streets outside.

Toronto fans embarrassed their club and all of Canadian soccer last night and I’m not even counting the ones who left early during the second half or during overtime. Casual fans are casual fans, but for allegedly real fans of TFC to leave because of their unhappiness with management is a joke and a really big reason to think that maybe MLS should’ve just told the CSA to pound snow and start their own league. I’ll reserve judgement until we see how Montreal and Vancouver are before declaring Canadian soccer totally rotten and asking that Dunc and Gord MacAsshole go start their own league that almost certainly wouldn’t even reach WUSA-level heights before crashing miserably.

One final note, a taunt really, to TFC fans. You might really hate MLS, its structure and its salary cap but you know who loves it more than almost anyone – your ownership. MLS is designed for owners who want a low-risk, low-cost sports investment where even owners who don’t try to win all that much can make a nice return. Who does that sound like? It sounds like MLSE and its main shareholders the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Fund. Pretty much, you’re ********ed, Toronto fans! Your owners absolutely LOVE MLS because even if the fans truly give up on the team (which looking at the Maple Leafs’ history, they never will), MLSE will still be sitting pretty, mired towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference counting its cash. You can yell and scream all you want, but when the best you’ve been able to show for four years is zero playoff appearances, Danny Dichio, and a dilettante German consultant – you’ve really got nothing. Have fun with your mediocrity Toronto fans, and after last night, allow me to speak for every other fan in the league when I say HARDY, HAR, HAR.

Moving on to the two most over-discussed nuggets of the weekend, I think that the playoff format isn’t a total disaster and I think the pro/rel talk is nothing but talk.

While we don’t know the 2010 playoffs’ final form, the addition of two teams through a play-in game actually has the potential for some dramatic action, especially if they are one-game play-ins. As for the shift back to more geographically “conventional” playoffs? Fine, whatever. It makes it less odd and easier to explain. Works for me.

As for the winter calendar. All I learned about that this weekend is that Sepp Blatter must literally be so stupid as to be brain damaged after using some his time with President Obama to bring up MLS playing a summer calendar. If this were any other normal business or non-profit enterprise, we’d tell FIFA and the USSF refereeing clowns to pack their stuff and get out so we could go off, innovate, and find a better way to do things. That MLS and other soccer leagues around the world cannot do this without being declared “REBELLIOUS” is one of the truly, truly stupid things about this sport.

Getting back to the winter calendar, it will never happen. This is all talk, politics, and evidence to those (like me) who think Qatar is now the clear favorite to win the 2022 World Cup bid. This is a move that shows the US is now playing from behind. That said, win or lose, it will never happen. If these “consultants” Garber talks about have even half a brain, they’ll say exactly what I said in a earlier column. It would be a very, very bad move for the league.

Well, that’s it from here. I’m sure I’ll have more now that the draft (otherwise known as the only part of the season that DC United fans are allowed to forward to anymore) is approaching.

Oh and more thing.

Toronto fans: You’re ********ed.

Ha ha ha.

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Moreno Walks Away, as DC United Sticks to the Script

It was a melancholy night at RFK Stadium Saturday, as it always is for DC United supporters when the season finale hits, and we know going in there’s no playoffs to be had.

Beyond simply being the final game, it’s the final tailgate, and in many cases, the final time you’ll share stories and beverages and food with friends until hope springs to life again in March.

This was combined with the fact that United fans were seeing the final game for club and MLS legend Jaime Moreno. Fittingly, Moreno drew and then converted a penalty for his 133rd career goal (for now, the all-time MLS best). It was what we had all hoped for – that Moreno would tally in his finale, and with the goal giving United a 2-1 lead over Toronto FC, we hoped the second part of the script would include United holding on to the lead and giving Moreno a victorious sendoff.

But in the end, even on this special night, it perhaps wasn’t wise to think United would shed what has been their 2010 identity. United did in fact give up the lead early in the second half, then fell behind as Toronto scored twice and walked out 3-2 winners.

Despite the score, most United fans stayed, and Moreno was given a warm, emotional sendoff when subbed off in the final 10 minutes. He exchanged greetings with all his teammates, and even with a couple members of classy and sporting TFC players. And in that moment, Moreno walked out of our lives forever. It was hard to watch Moreno’s family be so broken up after the game, as the player greeted fans in front of the supporters’ club sections at midfield.

Perhaps just as sad as that thought, is the realization of what now is left. Which, barring a keen offseason from the front office, is very little. There’s the young Andy Najar, and a full season of Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez is somewhat intriguing to me.

But as we’ve seen multiple times this season, a complete defensive upgrade is needed, United have to be more dangerous on the wings, and perhaps an upgrade in goal could be sought (though, better defensive work might make the Troy Perkins/Bill Hamid combo look better, to be fair to both).

All of this, however, makes this the perfect time for Moreno to exit. There’s no reason for him to hang on for another season that may well look much like what we saw in 2010. He’s done all he can do, more than anyone else in league history. His records will be surpassed, his legacy never will be.

United have many changes to make, and even if we don’t like it, it’s time to move on. I know there’s a big segment of fans that would love to see Moreno play forever, just as we did when the end finally came for Ben Olsen as a player. United fans hold their heroes dear, and the bond between Moreno and the community has been tight and has uplifted all involved.

No one replaces Moreno. No one will step in next year and instantly become that kind of hero. And it would be unfair for us as fans to put those expectations on a single player.

Seeing the end of Moreno’s career is a monumental transmission for the club and the fans, even if his goal and assist numbers have declined (as almost everybody on the team’s did this year). With Moreno gone and Olsen not likely to continue as head coach, the links to the glory years are now just about completely fractured for good.

United have never gone this long without winning an MLS Cup. No one would make them favorites in 2011. There are many changes to be made, and there’s no time like the present to get down to business.

My heart wishes Moreno could be a part of it. But my brain knows that 99% of good things must end … and it was time for this to end. I wish Jaime Moreno nothing but the best in whatever endeavors he takes on. I have no doubt he will be a success. He will always be a hero to me.

And I wish United nothing but the best in getting themselves out of the MLS cellar. I have no doubt … there’s a long way to go.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s what made last night all the more difficult.

Seattle and Toronto advance to CCL group stage. Care to complain about the All Star Game now?

So does that mean our great national nightmare of the MLS All-Star Game can be forgotten?

It’s just another reminder that in American soccer, almost nothing is as good as a league press release says it is, and nothing is as bad as the league’s haters say it is.

Finally, I need some statheads to come up with this one. If LA overcomes its deficit tonight against Puerto Rico, will that be the greatest 2nd leg comeback ever by an MLS team? I assume it would be, but my memory of matches is shot after watching 400 college and high school games in four years of being a sportswriter.

Looking ahead to the weekend in MLS

Here’s my quick thoughts on this weekend’s massive slate of games.

Match that should be the most entertaining – Houston-LA. This just has the look of an Western Conference playoff preview. Beckham or no Beckham, LA is still one of the best teams in the West and their 2-0 start is a sign of good things to come. Meanwhile in Houston, with Brian Ching’s injury, they’re left floundering for forward support in his wake. Joseph Ngwenya might be on his way back but I doubt it will be in time for Saturday. LA meanwhile will attempt to ride Edson Buddle for as long as his fragile confidence and gnat-like attention span will allow. Needless to say, I am quite down on Buddle. I can’t decide if he’s the Chris Webber or MLS or the Rasheed Wallace of MLS. Either way, it’s not a good thing.

Match that is the most intriguing – Philadelphia-DC United. There are lots of interesting plotlines here. It’s the Union’s home opener of course, with 30-40,000 expected at Lincoln Financial Field and over 1,000 of them expected to be DC United fans. It’s also Peter Novak’s first match against the team that he won a title with and it’s entirely winnable match for his team. DC’s attack has barely looked alive for the first two matches of the season. I’d look for Aussie striker Danny Allsopp to get his first start of the season in front of Moreno with Chris Pontius getting sat after his “couldn’t-hit-salt-in-the-ocean” performance against NE. If I’m Novak, I get my team to try and kick large chunks of out Moreno and United’s midfield and force the referee to stop us. This being MLS, the refs probably won’t stop them. Philly won’t get a better chance at win #1 until week eight (FCD), and I think they win an ugly tight one on Saturday.

Match that might make people never watch MLS again – Toronto-New England. Thanks to Mo Johnston, the Isiah Thomas of MLs, Toronto yet again has one of the strangest looking rosters with talented players in midfield (DeRosario, Cronin, De Guzman) passing to forwards who are either proven not to be good enough (Barrett), unproven and coming of a big injury (White) or unproven and an FCD castoff (Ibrahim). Meanwhile, don’t be fooled by NE’s unintentional rope-a-dope for 80 minutes last Saturday. The Revs’ attack looked utterly terrible for most of that match before a lolly-gagging Julius James and an absolute thunderbolt by Mansally saved the game for them. I wouldn’t expect a lot of goals from this match.

Question of the week: Just how much will Seattle miss Nate Jaqua? It’s a legitmate question with him now missing 4-6 weeks with abdominal surgery. With Le Toux gone in the expansion draft and Levesque very much the “very poor man’s Jaqua,” will Seattle lack a target presence? Assuming Pat Noonan has anything left in the tank, his acquisition will help fill the hole, but at only 6 feet tall, he won’t fill that hole completely.

Final rude question that will only go to make yet another fan base hate my guts: How much will Philadelphia’s fans live up to their reputation and misbehave on Saturday. As anyone who has ever experienced the joy that is a game surrounded by Phillies, Flyers or Eagles fans knows, Philadelphia sports fans are pretty much the closest thing American sports have ever had to compare to outright hooligans. When you combine Philly’s vast heritage of sporting misbehavior with the kind of “faux-hoolie wannabe chic” that has emerged in some of MLS’ newer markets, it will likely prove a combustable mix. Will merely wearing an opposition jersey make you a target for abuse or violence as it does at nearly any other Philly venue? Probably. Hell, I’ve even been abused for wearing Nationals gear at a meaningless Nats-Phils game at Citizens Bank back when the Phils weren’t that good. Why bother abusing Nats fans, really? We get it. Our team sucks. We don’t need to be yelled at.

TFC’s struggles should look awfully familiar to Toronto sports fans

So Toronto FC fired their interim manager Chris Cummins today, on the heels of a 5-0 meltdown in a must-win match against woeful New York. That’s a reasonable move, and one that I suspect most TFC fans welcome. But whichever English or Scottish league washout that Mo recruits (and you can bet your bottom dollar that it’ll be a Brit), will face the same problem that Cummins and his predecessor John Carver faced. That problem?

Mo Johnston.

I could try and put this politely for Toronto fans but instead let me explain it simply. Everyone in MLS thinks Johnston is an idiot when it comes to personnel. His record of erm, “success,” with NY and so far in Toronto is fairly obvious.

But here’s the biggest problem, and the problem that should haunt TFC fans far more than their insipid complaints about Major League Soccer’s rules and structure. I don’t think your owners give one iota of a crap whether your team wins or not, as long as 25,000 red-clad lunatics keep filling the seats. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), which owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors, and TFC, is currently under the majority ownership of the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan. You read that right; a pension fund for Ontario’s public school teachers owns three of Toronto’s professional sports franchises.

Here’s the big problem with that. The trustees of the pension plan have no reason to care whatsoever that TFC isn’t winning. As long as the seats are filled, the beer gets sold, and the media rights fees increase, it simply isn’t in the plan’s basic interest whatsoever to risk even a minute extra bit of its shareholders’ holdings in pursuit of silverware. That’s why Mo can probably consider his seat one of the safest in Major League Soccer. As long as the team makes money and he tells MLSE management what they want to hear, TFC’s legions of fans will likely be stuck with mediocre soccer in front of them for long while. Unlike with individual owners, the pension fund doesn’t have to win in order for it to be a success for itself or its shareholders. A pension fund won’t be mad that Toronto missed the playoffs. A pension fund won’t dream of lifting silverware in the way that an individual owner does.

If that sounds nauseatingly familiar to Toronto fans, it’s because it’s the exact same problem that has befallen the city’s beloved Maple Leafs for decades. As long as fans continue to fill the seats night-after-night, there simply is no reason for the pension fund to take the risk, as minimal as it might be, to put a championship-winning team out there. I just got done reading Leafs Abomination, by Toronto sportswriters Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange. The chapters on MLSE and the pension fund should be required reading for every Toronto FC fan. It doesn’t make one terribly optimistic about TFC’s future on-field performance.

Isolationism? Nope, just realism out of MLS and more nonsense out of Canadian fans

Tom Dunmore quotes some Canadian blog when he asks whether Quaranta’s pre-CCL quotes indicate some kind of “isolationism” on the part of MLS and its fans.

“It stands to reason that a 24-year-old from Baltimore that has played his entire professional career in the United States would share the viewpoint of most of the people that watch him.”

No, no, no. It’s because MLS’ rules pretty much rig the Champions League against its own clubs. It’s not that they don’t want to compete against CONCACAF’s best, it’s that they can’t, not with the roster/salary rules as they currently stand. Thus, why is it somehow “isolationist” to prioritize those competitions where DC United can compete on an even plane compared to its opposition?

Nope, it’s just more idiotic bloviating from our soccer neighbors to the North, who are increasingly becoming the second-most annoying constituency in North America soccer fan’dom right behind the US Soccer truthers, “she has an expensive bag, HANG HER!”

I really like Canada and Canadians, I really do. My father and his entire family are from Saskatchewan. I bear no beef whatsover with the country. I watch and actively enjoy Don Cherry (at least when he’s not ranting about Ovechkin having the audacity to enjoy playing hockey) on Hockey Night in Canada. I speak passable French. I appreciate that there is this great soccer community both in Toronto, and across the country and that for various cultural reasons, they’re extremely likely to view England, the “old world,” and its soccer traditions with a more favorable view than we do. I get that. It’s okay.

But enough already – enough of the constant drumbeat of criticism of this and that through the prism of “BUT, THIS ISN’T HOW IT’S DONE IN EUROPE!” This isn’t like hockey where Americans are in the minority in many ways compared to Canadians. MLS is a league made up primarily of American players watched primarily by American fans and funded primarily by American dollars. Toronto only has an MLS team because Americans supported this league for a decade and continue to do so.

I hate the be the one who tells Toronto fans to “know your place and shut up,” but I guess I am about to. For all of the Toronto fanbase’s energy and so on, the team has never made the MLS playoffs and for all the fan interest, not one Canadian company* has signed on as a league partner. So for all of the energy around TFC, the fact is they are just another MLS club that has to deal with the same baggage like the others.

If TFC wants a more European-style league to fit it and its fans’ ambitions, there is a very simple solution. Lead the effort for a fully-professional Canadian national soccer league. That won’t happen, of course, because there isn’t enough fan interest across the country as a whole, and it definitely doesn’t look like there would be corporate support for it as evidenced by Canadian multinationals’ disinterest in investing in MLS.

But as long as that happens, it’s time for Toronto and too many of its supporters to stop acting like they’re going to take their ball and stomp off from MLS. That isn’t going happen. Instead of screaming and yelling about what’s wrong with MLS and American soccer, how about you pay attention to your own team which is teetering in its playoff position despite playing in a division that features the entirely hopeless Red Bulls, injury-doomed Revolution and increasingly hopeless DC United.

Anyway, moan completed.

* And before you ask why a Canadian company would support a mostly-American league, many of these Canadian Forbes 2000 companies have large business interests in the US. Some of these companies include TD Bank, RBC Bank, RIM (Blackberry founders), Nortel, and Bombardier all of which sell plenty of products to Americans.