Toronto: Stars Upon Thars

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:

"Look Mommy! I got a star!"

A couple of years ago, when the disgusting greedbags who run CONCACAF decided there was money to be made in the creation of a CONCACAF Champions League, modeled after similar competitions around the world (but, of course, most notably in Europe), they found there was one slight problem:

Despite the fact that almost every flea-bitten third world sinkhole of a country with more than a couple dozen residents and/or cattle has a domestic professional league and could thus send a "Champion" thereof to serve as fodder for the Mexican sides, our neighbor to the North had, as has been noted in this space once or twice in the past, no national league.

And unlike in the case of most of the other countries who find themselves similarly leagueless - eg. Guyana, Montserrat and the Cayman Islands - Canada actually has a sizable population, a little money and enough TV sets to make it a market from which Warner & Co. (motto: "No Cash Left Unstolen") can wring a few bucks.

So with the entirely unacceptable alternative of actually leaving a few dollars on the table having been cast aside with the hearty "Yo-ho-ho" of the true pirates that they are, a lot of Canadian residents - particularly those in Southern Ontario - felt that the best solution was to simply send Toronto FC since, as the only Division I professional team in the entire country, they were obviously a) the only ones qualified and b) were beyond question the best team in te country.

Unfortunately, not even the shameless crooks who operate CONCACAF were able to swallow that idea. If Canada was going to have an entry in the "Champions" league then said entry was simply going to have to be the "Champion" of something.

Fortunately, where there's a dollar there's a way, as they say, and the solution they came up with was to hold a kind of after-school inter mural round robin with Division 2 Montreal and Vancouver serving as window dressing/cannon fodder for the inevitable TFC victory, "Championship" celebration and glorious march to CONCACAF immortality.

As we all know, this plan for getting TFC into the Champions League got off to a rocky start when the Impact won the thing in the first year and went on a startlingly successful run through the CONCACAF brackets, the highlight of which was the extraordinary quarterfinal match in hoary old Olympic Stadium which, stuffed to the dusty and decrepit old rafters with soccer-crazed Francophones, served notice to Don Garber that there was money for him up there as well and maybe he should start taking Joey Saputos' phone calls instead of telling his secretary to make loud farting noises into the receiver.

So TFC entered the second year of the now-legendary "Nutrilite Canadian Championship and Parking Lot Flea Market" determined to recover the pride that Montreal had been gleefully kicking around for the previous 12 months and retake their rightful place as unquestioned champions of Canada's First Division, in which, being the sole members, having finished second was a tad embarrassing.

And let the record reflect that after a glory-laden struggle which saw TFC manage to claim the coveted NCC Trophy via the storied "Goal Differential" route over a lower division team, Toronto proceeded to get their ass handed to them in the Pre-pre-preliminary round of the CONCACAF Tournament, never even making it into the regular brackets before being summarily dismissed by Puerto Rico, another second division team.

To a lesser outfit, this entire ugly affair might be considered something of an embarrassment.

But in Toronto, which after three long sad years of membership in another country's Division I Professional league has yet to finish with a record over .500 or so much as sniff a playoff game, the desperation to prove their relevance and success is palpable.

So Toronto has decided that their glorious march to a percentage points win in a three team round robin over two lower division teams in a two year old cup competition sponsored by a vitamin company has earned them that most coveted of all honors in the footballing world:

A star above their crest.

Now to the unpracticed eye, this might be the functional equivalent of similarly adorning one's uniform after winning the Carolina Challenge Cup - which, one could note, includes three times as many first division teams - but such cynicism is easily dismissed.

And in fairness, it's unclear whether they, like latter day Sneetches, intend to wear Stars Upon Thars in MLS matches.

One would presume (indeed hope) not, particularly since taking the field against a team like DC United, which proudly wears four stars on their uniforms as tokens of hard fought campaigns that culminated in Cup wins (in, it should be noted, an actual League) over talented and worthy opponents, might very well engender, shall we say, some mild form of mockery from the ever-polite and gracious Barra-Brava and Screaming Eagles sections, who know - obviously much better than they do in Toronto - what those things represent.

The point here is that, as with the fourth grader who brings home an 8/10 spelling test which Mommy sticks to the refrigerator with a plastic banana magnet, it's important to find some method via which to acknowledge that even mediocrity deserves some form of reward.

And regardless of how pathetic this might look to some, as if - incredibly - TFC were so desperate for some kind of glory that they stooped to profaning a football tradition which in other places and circumstance actually means something, I think it's incumbent upon us all not to chuckle, as if this were some ludicrous piece of meaningless self-aggrandizement.

The funny thing is, I never ever expected to find myself actually feeling sorry for Preki, who thought he signed up to coach a soccer team and woke up to find himself in the middle of a group therapy session.