I Work All Night and I Sleep All Day

Today let's shift our focus all the way across the continent and observe the contrast with a set of veteran MLS fans who grasp the reality of this league and their place not as the Kings of Narcissistic Self-Congratulation but rather as adjuncts to an organization where the team, not themselves, is their main focus:

Toronto FC. Yes, that Toronto FC. Someone call Hell and see if the snow has started to accumulate.

Because in case you've missed it, there's a whole new day dawning on the north shore of Lake Ontario, where nothing is as it was and the changes are profound in ways that the rest of the league might do well to ponder.

Those of us who have followed MLS for any length of time think we know some hard and fast truths about what it takes to build a winner in our beloved little league: get yourself a coach who understands American college players and the MLS "style of play", stock up on cheap, athletic body-bangers, find yourself a couple of skill guys from overseas someplace, get lucky in the draft and keep enough players on your paper-thin roster healthy to make a run in the playoffs.

This theory has spawned a number of "worst to first" (or at least "bad to best") champions, a phenomenon which undoubtedly made the league office happy for obvious reasons but also tended to create unrealistic expectations and impatient fans, and nowhere was this effect more pronounced than in the chilly environs of BMO field where Mo Johnston and Preki both trashed their careers attempting to make it a reality; surely one more trade, one more clever signing or one more tough guy locker room speech would open the door to fame and glory.

The situation in Toronto was complicated by the fact that from the beginning, as someone commented recently, the fans demanded that their team be as wonderfully awe-inspiring as they were and became very angry when this didn't happen.

This led to such utterly tone deaf sights as a fan group parading with the infamous sign proclaiming "We deserve better", and the message was clear: the management needed to deliver a team worthy of their efforts, a sense of entitlement which would seem to have the whole idea of fandom exactly backwards, although to their credit they didn't feel the need to have Black Jacques Shellac take a huge axe to a pitifully defenseless tree stump whenever Danny Dicchio scored a goal.

To be fair it wasn't entirely their fault; Don Garbers' comments should always be precded by a warning label: "Danger: Taking Anything This Man Says Seriously Can Be Hazardous To Your Mental Health".

Because of course he says the same things everywhere he goes (except Columbus, possibly because he was frightened by a banana when he was a baby).

Don't get me wrong here: I love Cohiba Don and hope he learns to use a razor and is MLS commissioner for the next 20 years. It's just that the man is a shameless Lothario who'll sidle up to every girl in the bar and tell her how beautiful she is, only he's not trying to get into her pants, just her wallet.

Thus, Toronto had the greatest fans in the known universe. Until Seattle did, which only lasted until Philadelphia and then Portland and Vancouver did, and he's undoubtedly listening to his Rosetta Stone French lessons as we speak so he can learn to slobber all over Montreal in a few months.

It's not personal: he's just creating buzz and selling tickets. It's his job.

The problem of course is that when you make the fans the focus of attention instead of the team you've put the cart before the horse, and when the horse keeps finishing out of the money the cart gets pretty pissed.

It's also how you end up with a group of fans so humorless and full of themselves that they blow their colons if someone pokes fun at their mascot.

It's not much of a secret that I'm not a big fan of having Canadian teams in MLS although in truth I've never really understood why that makes a lot of Maple Leafers so angry, particularly since even the coach of the Canadian National Team feels the same way, but no matter.

However that may be, trying to follow the well-worn MLS formula, as Mo Johnston did, simply didn't work for TFC.

Which brings us to Aron Winter, a guy who doesn't seem to care much how Bruce and Sigi do things.

Winters' message, from the first day was that he wanted to change the "culture" at Toronto FC. Which of course sounds a lot like what every new coach says at his introductory presser. Usually they mean that players are going to start showing up on time and stop loafing at practice and start "acting like winners" since, by definition, the fact that there's a new coach most likely means that there's been a whole lot of losing going on.

Then some odd things started to happen, like the whole locker room kerfuffle.

Winter wanted it closed to the media not because, as someone like Arena might say, the media are an annoyance and if he had his way they'd be banned from the locker room, the stadium, the parking lot and, presumably, the planet.

And it wasn't because he didn't want a bunch of pasty-faced guys wearing cheap clothes catching glimpses of his players' naughty bits.

Rather, it was because at TFC part of his vision is the very European concept that the locker room is for players, a sacrosanct place where outsiders simply do not belong, but that seemingly trivial issue was easy to write off as just another confused foreign guy who didn't understand the deal over here.

But the DeRosario trade should have made us sit up and take notice.

Because whatever the public explanations, it now seems clear that as much as anything else it was a message which no one can have failed to get: nobody is bigger than the team.

In a league as thin on offensive talent as MLS you don't send one of the best players in the league packing and, in any case, the guy was right: paying de Guzman (let alone Mista) three or four times what he was making was ludicrous. DeRo is every bit as valuable a commodity as Landon Donovan and, particularly in Canada, fully deserves Donovan money.

But the larger issue was just who is calling the shots up there and the word now is that Mariner had been peddling the guy for weeks. They were just waiting for the best offer.

It all came into focus a couple of days ago when TFC unveiled the plans for their new training facility, which will be nothing short of world class in every way: three grass fields, one of which wil be heated and exactly mirror the pitch at BMO, one artificial turf field under a bubble and a 3,715-square-meter fieldhouse. The price tag will be around $20 million.

Even more revealing than the investment in facilities and the concurrent commitment to vastly expanding their Academy system to include ever-younger teams was the presentation by TFC assistant coach Bob de Klerk.

He stepped to the whiteboard, laid out 11 player positions, marked them by number and explained the responsibilities of each one:

"With each number, with each position, they know what to do with the ball and without the ball"

They're going to start installing their style and philosophy on teams as young as six years old. Every side in the academy will play exactly the same style. They're not just going to be "developing players"; they're going to teach players to fit into specific roles in the overall scheme, which will be precisely the same all the way up to the senior side.

Now of course this isn't an approach that Winter invented. Been around football for years. Know your role, know everyone else's role, everybody on the same page every minute. Playing left mid for the 17's is exactly the same as playing left mid for the 12's or the first division pro club and, perhaps more importantly, you always know where the guys around you are going to be.

What is different is an MLS organization being run this way. In fact, it's positively revolutionary.

And the biggest difference is that to go this route is to run exactly counter to the way MLS sides are normally operated: it accepts that winning the Cup - maybe even making the playoffs - may be a long ways off.

Sure they'll try and hit a home run in the draft and pick up free agents that suit their program and improve their team. But only within the scheme. Winter isn't going to change the teams' approach to the game to suit any one player, no matter who he is.

As I said, this isn't exactly original thought, and one could point out that clubs who adhere to this kind of methodology do not routinely dominate world football.

However, MLS isn't everyplace - or even anyplace - else. Since, to put it charitably, individual brilliance is sometimes in short supply, the two greatest predictors for success here are a) depth and b) continuity.

In MLS it's the teams whose core has been together for some length of time that more often end up in the top half of the league, while teams with a bunch of year-to-year turnover generally don't do as well. Teams can't spend the money to bring in a couple of expensive game changers when they need them.

In a system like Winter is trying to establish, you replace familiarity with your teammates with familiarity with the system. You don't ever have to have laid eyes on the guy next to you before in your life in order to function well with him because you both understand the system.

Continuity ceases to be as much of an issue, and while the next guy in line may not be as talented as the injured player he replaces, at least he knows how to try and play like him.

So in fact this kind of regimented role system might very well prove to be a consistent winner in a league with a tight salary cap and short rosters.

Of course, it's going to take some time before we know for sure, but the one thing we - and TFC's fans - can say for certain is that there's a direction, a method and a goal beyond hoping a decent player falls into your lap with the seventh pick in the draft or being able to reel in a DP who's worth the money.

(The really interesting question is just how much of this bears Juergen Klinnsmans' fingerprints? Or is this mostly Winters' doing?)

And TFC's fans show every sign of being willing to get on board. The team was whacked around pretty badly by DC the other day, for example, and there were no reports of mass suicides, effigy burnings or boiling tar pots in the BMO parking lot.

In short, it appears that they've gotten over feeling like MLS games are a contest to see who has the best fans. Rather than admiring themselves they'll be admiring their team.

Then the problem will be that, like DC fans a decade ago, they'll be utterly insufferable with good reason.

God help us all.