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Welcome to Partially Obstructed View. We are each restrained by the limits of our own perspective, but when we meet to share information a clearer picture of the truth can be revealed. Comments & criticisms are welcome.

Friday, 9 August 2013

First Person View – Midseason Friendlies should be Celebratory -- Part One - Why They Aren’t

    The concept of a midseason friendly is simple and admirable enough.

    Bring in a big club, a storied one, somebody the home fans and soccer-aficionados who do not regularly attend matches alike would be interested in seeing.

    Sure, use it as a marketing tool, but also a celebration of how far the game has come in this franchise’s short life.

    With nothing riding on the match, it should be a fun night out, and a chance to just enjoy the game without the stress of points on the line.

    How many times in the life of the average Torontonian does one get the chance to see Francesco Totti – a true legend of the game - live in action? Once, maybe twice?

    But clearly in Toronto, they have become sources of conflict, that vocal minority of Toronto fans, flinching like the spurned lovers that they are, are duly annoyed by these matches; the question is why?

    Put simply - there is nothing fun about being the laughing stock of the league.

    The frustration from seven successive seasons of misery has mounted, destroying the once vibrant atmosphere and generally making fandom a lonely and desperate thing.

    Professional sports, supporting a team, should enhance one’s life, not rob it of joy.

  Winning would cure all, while Part Two of this discussion will address one way to lessen the displeasure, but perhaps taking steps to ensure very cheap tickets for regular supporter’s – hell give them away as a reward for seven years of trouble – or evolving the experience into a celebration of the sport in the city would go some way to softening the blow.

    Bring back some TFC heroes of the past; give the fans a chance to say hello to either those still involved with the club – a Danny Dichio night, complete with wigs would be awesome - or those long departed.

    Fly in Carl Robinson – that’ll annoy Vancouver and thus lift the spirits of Toronto fans; or Amado Guevara – and perhaps the next Johnny Leveron will be more inclined to join TFC rather than those other guys.

    Get Zac Herold into town for the game as a guest of honour; or hearken back to the long soccer history in the city, with video montages of Blizzard or Metros matches with a few former players around to soak up some applause.

    Have the much-beloved members of the women’s team – if available, of course – flown in for the event.

    Namely, do something to make sure that the focus of the match is the sport and the fans, not how amazing the visitors are – they’re getting paid to be here, the fans are not.

    Which brings us to Kevin Payne’s condescendingly-toned statements when interviewed during the broadcast.

    Enough words have already been spilt on the subject, including a handy transcript.

    Payne has been brash and confrontational; he talks too much, but maybe that’s just who is – many could say the same of fans, brash and confrontational, but of course, it is a little more allowable from them.

    If he was tight-lipped and gave away nothing, folks would complain that he doesn’t communicate enough – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    That said he was far too casual in how he addressed those concerns when asked on the broadcast. Was it exasperation at having to field the same question once more? Was he too preoccupied in basking in the reflected glory of a prestigious opponent to measure his words more carefully, forgetting all he may once have known about measured speech?

    Winning heals all wounds and perhaps one day the fans will take his big-talking, take-no-prisoners attitude as a sign of confidence and firm-mindedness, not condescension and lunacy.

   Situations craft relationships as much as personalities do.

    I highly doubt his intent was to offend – that said, there have been instances of clubs purposefully clipping the wings of supporters groups for their own ends when they feel the balance of power has shifted or the interests of the fans runs counterproductively to those of the club and league - but it should be remembered that pro sports is a very competitive realm and any one who makes it their business needs both a thick skin and a sharp tongue, though of course subtlety and results – a bit of follow-through – go a long way.

    This is where the murkiness of MLS does front offices a disservice.

    It is hard to tell in Payne and Ryan Nelsen have done a good job off the field.

    While many will say they see the same out soulless team on the field – they would be wrong, or have preconceived notions and they haven’t bothered to invest the time to divest themselves of these opinions.

   Steven Caldwell was a great acquisition. Matias Laba is poised to be a star in this league and perhaps beyond. Joe Bendik has been the signing of the season, and Jonathan Osorio has flourished, while the development of Doneil Henry continues to impress.

    Canadian players on a Canadian team; not every team can be proud of that at the moment.

    The problem that arises is that it is near impossible to properly and fairly evaluate player moves in MLS because there is so much undisclosed.

    How can fans fully assess a trade when allocation money amounts are withheld? A deal that nets a half a million is good, one that nets a minimal amount of allocation is not.

    How much did the first-overall spot in the draft fetch? How much did the trading down acquire? And what of Luis Silva’s move to DC?

    Just how bad were the accounting ledgers handed to the new regime that purportedly necessitated many of these moves?

    The layperson will probably never know.

    This lack of transparency creates a general air of mistrust that easily transforms into pessimism and eventually outrage.

    Humanity functions by comparing that which we observe with that which we know. If we observe one thing, but lack the information to properly contextualize it, then truth, and perspective, is easily lost.

    In terms of these friendly matches, when Payne told the fans to “Get used to it”, he really wasn’t saying anything we didn’t already know.

    The club is a business after all; the problem arises when motives become unclear – is it money or trophies, not that the two are mutually exclusive – and Payne’s confrontational comments do little to assuage any fears.

    If the outrage is at him being blunt and not pandering enough, it is time to ask questions about what we want from our team, that they win, or that they play nice enough with our egos that we feel good about ourselves when opening up the wallet to pay to be a part of it all?

    Was it as public relations nightmare, yes; but I personally prefer he be blunt, rather than the incessant reminders of how great and wonderful and deserving of a winner we are.

    Just shut it and get to work.

    In stark contrast, to those comments from Payne – and perhaps some that hit at the heart of the issues here is Toronto – are those oft expressed by Adrian Hanauer, vocalized once more as his club, Seattle, announced a major acquisition, Clint Dempsey last Saturday.

    “We really do feel as though we are stewards of this franchise for our fan-base.”

    Too often Toronto fans have been left feeling like disaffected customers, not valued participants.

   These midseason friendlies should be celebrations of the sport and despite all the controversy, in many small ways, they are.

    One of my little cousins attended the match, it was his – and his father’s – first live soccer event.

    When I saw him the next day he was wearing a Milan Stephan El Shaarawy kit and buzzing about the experience.

   It is only a matter of time before I drag him to an MLS match – a task made easier by the Roma friendly – and soon enough he will be a convert.

    What number of return fans makes this exercise worthwhile in critic’s eyes? Is my cousin enough? And how many more like him may have been exposed to the beauty of our sport?

    The plain truth is that, if the club was winning, these would be fun; if you’re not having fun at the league matches then why are come at all?

    I saw a lot of people having fun in the rain against Columbus, forgetting for a brief moment their grievances and giving into the experience.

    Are we letting our frustrations get in the way of a good time? Is that what we want from our team?

Parts Two and Three will be up shortly – and are much shorter, as well.

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