Preki Agonistes

Lord knows I have to be careful when talking about our Pale and Chilly Brothers Up North since for some reason a lot of people are of the opinion that I harbor - incredible as it may sound - less than positive feelings about Toronto FC.

That said, it's hard to resist the temptation to observe that the wheels seem to have come completely off the TFC wagon.

Can you use terms like "A season in disarray" if the season hasn't even started yet? Can you say "the honeymoon is over" when the groom is still fumbling in his pocket for the hotel key card while the bride stands there impatiently tapping her foot and wondering if Daddy was right all along?

When Toronto announced the hiring of Predrag "Preki" Radosavljević, the whole thing seemed like a no-brainer. A former league Coach of the Year who had also spent 8 years playing in said league was going to a team whose last two coaches couldn't even spell MLS if you spotted them the M and the L, and proceeded to prove it.

And a guy whose team had never missed the playoffs was headed to a team that had never made the playoffs. Everybody knew that his record after having gotten in was the reason he was let go by Chivas but they were willing to take it one step at a time.

So how did he go from having the media hail him as The One who would lead them to glory just a few months ago to Preki threatening yesterday to stop even talking to them:

“It’s just a very negative setup around the city in terms of the press, the media and at some point I’m going to have to cut it off because my job is to defend these guys (and if it doesn’t improve) we’ll lose that relationship, all of us.”

Maybe it's the fact that TFC will open its' 2010 season tomorrow in Columbus and, as of right now the situation up there is so confused that it's hard to even say how many players they have. One report says they only have 15 guys available.

And while everyone expects a new coach, who after all was hired to fix a failing team, to make some changes, Preki has jettisoned such notables as Amado Guevara, Pablo Vitti, Adrian Serioux, Carl Robinson, Ali Gerba and Marvell Wynne and either replaced them with no one at all or, in the latter case, with Nick Labrocca, which you could argue amounts to about the same thing.

Don't get me wrong; with one or two exceptions I would probably have dumped those guys too. The problem is though that you're supposed to, you know, replace them with other guys.

Indeed, about the only players Preki has brought in, other than 17 year old second round draftee Zach Herold, are LaBrocca, Ty Harden and Jcaob Peterson, all from the Colorado Rapids who, it might be noted, didn't make the playoffs last season either.

To say the natives are restless is an understatement; the natives are warming up the tar pots and emptying the pillows.

Now obviously if the team starts winning then the fans and the media will quickly come around. And in fairness it should be noted that Preki has a pretty good track record as an MLS coach and maybe deserves - clearly feels he does deserve - the benefit of the doubt.

But their weak preseason record, coupled with tomorrows' game in Columbus against a deep, talented Crew side that already has two hard fought and meaningful games under their belts does not bode well for the immediate future.

Then again, this is MLS and one of the only rock solid certainties of said league is that nothing at all is as it seems.

Speaking of tomorrows' match, here's something you didn't know:

Preki and Crew Head Coach Robert Warzycha, from Yugoslavia and Poland respectively were teammates at Everton from 1992-1994.

Both were also, of course, members of inaugural MLS teams in 1996 as was RSL coach Jason Kreis, KC coach Peter Vermes, Houston coach Dominick Kinnear, San Jose head man Frank Yallop, Chivas coach Martin Vasquez and DC honcho Curt Onolfo.*

That's fully half of the league.

Hail hail the gangs all here.

In 2008 I wrote about the Crew almost constantly. I was very conscious of it at the time, and tried to avoid it but every time you turned around something else happened - I mean, an invasion by West Ham yobbos? How strange was that? - and I felt like I had to.

So last year was almost a relief because aside from Toronto fans tossing chunks of Crew Stadium onto the field (they said it was only because the place was falling apart anyway, due to "poor maintenance") and ending up spending the night bunked up with transvestite hookers and guys detoxing from their meth habit down at the county lockup, nothing much really demanded our attention.

However, I thought THIS PIECE contributed by eagle-eyed BigSoccer habitue kgilbert78, was worth noting.

It basically discusses how the Crew and local officials are making very tentative, very preliminary steps towards building a new stadium downtown.

Interestingly, apparently the group from Las Vegas headed by investor Mark Noorzai that was making inquiries last year about buying the Crew actually wanted to disassemble Crew Stadium and move the thing lock, stock and Lamar Hunt Rock to a downtown location. Clark Hunt, of course, told them the team is not for sale and that ended the discussion.

Since many, many soccer fans in the US (and Canada) have visited Crew Stadium (at least briefly, prior to the free ride down to Police Plaza) it's hardly a secret that the place is difficult to get to, a terrible place to park if it has recently rained, has no public transportation, is utterly impossible to get out of after a game and has quite literally no local amenities - restaurants, bars, hotels - within walking distance.

The neighborhood crack whores don't count.

Since obviously there are teams still desperately in need of their first stadium, it's a bit premature to be talking about the Crews' second one, but it's almost another interesting league milestone that it's under discussion.

It's also interesting to note that the place, while about as bare bones as a place can get without being Stade Saputo, is nevertheless considered THE MOST NOTABLE NEW STADIUM OF THE LAST DECADE heading a list which consists of:

2. Wembley Stadium - London, England
3. Air Canada Centre - Toronto, ON
4. Etihad Stadium - Melbourne, Australia
5. Minute Maid Park - Houston, TX
6. Cowboys Stadium - Dallas, TX
7. Emirates Stadium - London, England
8. Sapporo Dome - Japan
9. Allianz Arena - Munich, Germany
10. The O2 - London, England

Which is pretty heady company for a pile of galvanized metal and bench seating.

But therein lies the dilemma of course. This is the House That Lamar Built, and despite the wishes of newcomers who aren't capable of grasping the fact, it's one of the main reasons that MLS exists today.

Lamar Hunt wasn't an investor who came along and bought into a going concern or someone who stood on the sidelines until it was safe. Rather, he was a man of vision and guts who built a soccer stadium out of his own pocket when everyone - including his fellow MLS owners - quite literally laughed and told him he was nuts.

Move the place? Yeah, maybe; certainly the location - a slum next to an interstate highway - is about as dreadful as it could be and a better one would undoubtedly give an instant boost to attendance.

But replace it? No thanks. If nothing else, it would make Mexico way too happy.

*Corrected; see comments