Tim’s Football Club

Posted on January 13, 2014 10:05 am

Who had 2014 in the “We have to take Toronto FC seriously” pool?  I was off by a little.  As in, the sort of timeline Zager & Evans sang about.

I wish I was able to put a little more imagination and analysis into this, but any MLS team that adds players like Defoe and Bradley become contenders, at the very least on paper.  There are a couple of ways it could go wrong, of course.  Ryan Nelsen wasn’t Tim Lieweke’s hire, and I can see him being on a very short leash if Toronto gets off to a slow start.  And because both Defoe and Bradley will have other things on their plate this year, TFC might very well get off to that slow start.

Lieweke has historically put media attention, profitability and attendance ahead of on-field quality, although that doesn’t seem to be as big an issue here as it was with David Beckham in Los Angeles.  For one thing, I keep hearing these awful rumors that Toronto FC fans don’t support US national team players as much as other MLS markets.  If so, I think we can conclude that the Bradley acquisition was a quality of player move, rather than an attendance move.

Then there’s the question of the other nine players.  If Dwayne De Rosario is going to be the team’s tenth best player, Toronto will win the title.  If he’s their third best player, they’ll make the playoffs in the last couple weeks of the season and get bounced in the first round.  De Rosario’s contribution has to come in practice molding young players and coming off the bench for a few useful minutes – otherwise it will be a frustrating year in Toronto again.  A different kind of frustration, one in which the team wins once in a while – but frustration nevertheless.

So Toronto might end up top-heavy, which would be a refreshing change from nowhere-heavy of previous years.  If Lieweke is patient and lets this team gel after the World Cup, or God help us adds a few more players, then there’s a new favorite in the East.  It sounds like I’m showing unreasonable disrespect to Our Glorious Champions and Our Glorious Shield Winners, but again, both Defoe and Bradley are better than anyone on in the East.  Yeah, I think Cahill and Henry aren’t as good.  Let’s see 2014 prove me terribly wrong.

Apparently there are those who are worried for Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley, that this transfer will cause their skills to deteriorate beyond recovery between now and June.  My response is usually something along the lines of “Yeah, like all those players in the Premiership who won their easy group in 2010 oh, wait a minute, that was a bunch of MLS scrubs.”

But that was before Bill told me that Emmet Austin was worried.  It’s amazing to me you don’t hear much about Emmet Austin these days.  I’ll let Sean Miller describe Austin’s career for you briefly:

My very good friend Emmet Austin, who played football where I went to college, Columbia University, before heading over to England to play with West Ham United and a few teams in League Two and the Football Conference, compares MLS matches to Conference North matches in England.

Now, like most of you, I grew up cheering for Emmet Austin.  Every American fan thrilled to the Columbia Lions of the 1990′s, as they won title after title in the NCAA’s.  But Austin’s career would be constantly thwarted by provincial American jealousy.  MLS refused to offer him a contract worthy of his talents, and US Soccer made absolutely no effort to bring him to the national team.  Those of us who spent week in and week out watching West Ham and a few teams in League Two and the Conference would weep at what might have been.  I’ll bet there aren’t three soccer fans in the country – I take that back.  I’ll bet there aren’t two sports fans in the country who couldn’t tell you all about Emmet Austin and what he meant, not just for the sport, but for America.  And I sure don’t have to tell you how hard I’ve worked year after year to get him included on the Hall of Fame ballot.  Maybe this will be his year, and we can finally acknowledge his….

…oh, wait a minute.  I was confusing Emmet Austin with someone I had ever heard of before in my entire life.  My bad.

I’ve asked Miller for details on Austin’s unrecognized glory, and am holding my breath until he responds.  I had to write Miller, because Austin’s playing career is not only a mystery to West Ham, but to everyone except the FreeLibrary.

Anyway, for those of us US national team fans with attention spans larger than that of goldfish, we can take comfort in the number of players, from Eddie Pope to Landon Donovan, who gave their careers to MLS and were not turned into frogs.  As with Landon Donovan, being The Man (well, apart from Defoe) will help Bradley more than scrounging for playing time.  The US national team doesn’t need guys who are good at fighting for minutes, they need guys who can make teammates better.

Yeah, people can say all they want that Michael Bradley is better off being a role player and a backup in a higher quality league, and that they national team is better off with him training for a Serie A team than playing in MLS.  They were wrong about Eddie Pope, they were wrong about Landon Donovan, and they’ll be wrong about Michael Bradley.

They’ll also be wrong about Jermain Defoe, if England drops him, but among my many blessings in life is that England’s problems are not mine.

And yeah, it’s going to be incredibly ponderous if the US does not pull off two or three upsets, and loses to teams with better players.  I do NOT look forward to the hate-America-first-and-Canada-second crowd yammering about how MLS players lost games to Bundesliga and La Liga starters that, apparently, Serie A and Premiership backups would have won.

But that’s not going to change the reality.  Michael Bradley probably is just the tiniest bit more tuned into what he thinks is best for himself as a club and international player than we are.  I mean, if he was concerned that Toronto was going to ruin him and his World Cup…wouldn’t he have waited until August to transfer?  Especially to a non-American team?  No?  We’re all smarter than he is, and we know what’s best for him.  Okay, thanks for clearing that up.

No, I think it’s pretty obvious that these transfers affect MLS much more than any national team.  The other thing that Lieweke has done is, once again, put pressure on the other teams in MLS to respond.  The transfer window is still young, after all.  Thanks to Lieweke, it’s already the biggest since 2007 – which was also Lieweke’s doing.

Which brings me to what the LA Galaxy have done – acquiring a young Brazilian on loan and a 32 year old Canadian veteran.

Wait, TFC are signing famous players, and LA is signing Canadians in their 30′s?  Oh, my God, LA and Toronto are living out “Freaky Friday.”

Here’s why Galaxy fans shouldn’t be concerned.  We are, of course – we’re as spoiled as 80′s yogurt – but we really should have more confidence in the organization at this point.  Because to me, the key thesis in the “LA can’t or won’t get players” thesis is that “And Bruce Arena is deeply concerned about this.”

I guess it’s possible.  Maybe Bruce Arena goes pleading to Chris Klein for some big splashy names, and Klein tells Arena to shut up and do his job, and Arena keeps quiet and toughs it out with players he thinks aren’t up to his standards.

Let’s take Robbie Rogers, by far the easiest target on the team right now.  I don’t think, at this stage of his career, that Bruce Arena is forced to sign, or play, anyone he doesn’t want to.  If Bruce Arena thinks Robbie Rogers is worthy of a roster spot, and a place in the starting lineup, I have a lot of trouble contradicting him.

Yes, I know, Mike Magee is the league MVP, and congratulations to him again.  That trade sure looks terrible.  Now you have to ask yourself whether Arena is susceptible to the sunk cost fallacy, and will continue to pay and start Rogers, hoping against hope that it will pay off.  Instead of, say, giving up on him and finding someone new.

Now, to be fair, Arena has been wrong about the quality of his players before.  Even in his largely successful Galaxy tenure, he thought Juan Pablo Angel and Carlo Cudicini would be crucial, and was off by a wide margin.   Rogers, Friend and Samuel may end up as helpful as Angel and Cudicini were.

But keep in mind Arena took steps to rectify those mistakes, and was backed up by the organization financially.  It wasn’t cheap to get Robbie Keane and Jaime Penedo, but that’s what Arena wanted.  I don’t think that’s changed – largely because if the Galaxy are no longer in a position to give Bruce Arena the players he wants, I think they would also no longer in a position to employ Bruce Arena.

Then again, sometimes life is like blackjack, and face value is face value.  Tim Lieweke leaves the Galaxy for Toronto, and suddenly Toronto makes Galaxy-like moves while Los Angeles seems much more tentative.

Unlike, to pick an example not entirely at random, their cellmates at the National Training Center.  There is no one on earth cheering on the Bofo Bautista to Chivas USA rumors more than me, I can tell you that.

 

 

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