Saturday, May 03, 2008


The Red Patch Boys are going to lovvvvve being referred to as "garbage," a "junk product" and "bush league." (It starts around the 2:45 mark.)

"It's minor league. I'm sorry, that's an insult to the minor leagues -- it's bush league, okay? It's just garbage.

"... when you have a junk product like that ... Seriously, is the World Series contested with a pitcher pitching in confetti and streamers? This is GAR-bage and if this league wants to be taken seriously in North America, clean up the garbage."

Michael Wilbon, you were a cerebral, respected sports journalist once.

It's streamers, okay? Streamers.

This doesn't happen at the World Series, fair enough. It's odd how the big-shot American sports personality assumes his example is superior when he's talking about a foreign game, soccer, and Canadian fans. It's soccer and it's Canada -- that means it's an open target for Wilbon to get sick in his own scorn for the 13th time since the last commercial break (although, really, aren't blogs to blame for fuelling that anger?).

The bottom line is that people in Toronto have, on balance, created something awesome. They've taken the global passion for footy and applied it to a Major League Soccer team (although that has brought on issues with rowdyism). If it's between TFC fans tossing streamers and the American corporate model where fans are expected to cheer when the scoreboard tells them to and only hold up placards or wave towels if they were passed out by a team employee at the gate, the first example sounds a lot more fun.

Ask the players, Wilbon -- you're the journalist with the access. Do you they prefer playing in near-empty Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, or a raucous stadium in Toronto? It's always nice to know you're playing in front of people who care, even when they're against you. The Red Bulls player, Claudio Reyna, didn't seem to mind.

The real kicker is that this is somehow keeping MLS from being seen as big league. U.S.-based teams that play in NFL or college football stadiums that are far too big for a soccer crowd do a lot more damage to the league's rep.


Tyler King said...

That's a bit of a non-sequitur, Neate, assuming that Wilbon means by attacking the use of streamers at games that he's opposed to all aspects of the atmosphere at BMO Field.

Nor does it mean he's in favour of carefully controlled crowd noise, especially considering the lessons that American football and baseball fans could teach 90% of their Canadian counterparts. Arrowhead Stadium is not exactly the prime example.

Wilbon had a good point if he'd expanded on it - MLS, even without the streamers, is garbage soccer, and to throw garbage on the field because it's some form of one-year-old tradition doesn't exactly increase its respectability. He didn't have to use the World Series example - you don't see this in the Premiership either. What you do see, is decent soccer.

The fact is that Toronto FC one of the most overrated teams in the country, and can seemingly do no wrong because of how wonderful their "atmosphere" is. The reality is that the quality of play is terrible, the quality of the team is terrible, and there are more people inside the stadium that care about the team than there are anywhere outside the stadium. Sure, the crowd is loud, but that doesn't make it a quality product.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Good post, Neate: love seeing soccer here! Anyone who calls MLS garbage soccer needs to spend more time watching it: the likes of Juan Pablo Angel, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Luciano Emilio might beg to differ, to say nothing of Ruud Gullit. Sure, it's not the EPL, but even Italy and Spain are having a tough time matching the quality of the EPL these days. MLS is still good-quality soccer, comparable to the German Bundesliga or the English Coca-Cola Championship (and several MLS sides would probably be able to beat Derby County, who are currently (though not for much longer) in the EPL Tyler esteems so highly). There's no need to turn your nose up at a steak just because it isn't filet mignon.

sager said...

Of course it's a non-sequitur; Wilbon's whole rant was a non-sequitur.

This is about people who are not sports-obsessed, but who have gone to TFC games and loved it, in part because it's lively and everyone is so into the game. People gathering in an open space in their community to watch a sports event has inherent value in this world, more so than watching a higher-quality sport via satellite from six time zones away.

It's the epitome of arrogant, smug commentary for Wilbon to dismiss all of that out of hand. He's better than that and all of us should aspire to better than that in our lives.

You're correct saying that the soccer isn't Premiership-quality, but don't be a Cranky Pants. The way people are voting with their feet suggests that people have an emotional investment in Toronto FC. That's what being a sports fan is all about.

Yes Im Peter Ing said...


On what scale does MLS qualify as “garbage soccer”? It’s not the EPL, Serie A, or La Liga, but then those leagues represent only a fraction of the hundreds of top-tier national leagues found around the world – leagues whose fans seem capable of enjoying and accepting their product for what it is without the hindrance of insecurity we in North America tend to deal with.

The MLS serves two purposes. The first is to develop young American talent (and now Canadian, as well) for the betterment of the national program and, if possible, for export. The second is to provide an entertaining product for its fans. On both counts the league is a success. Since 1996 the United States national team has clawed its way from obscurity to top-30 status based largely on the strength of Major League Soccer talent. In 2002, the Americans, fielding a team comprised largely of MLS-based players (certainly the core), came within a goal of a semifinal appearance at the World Cup, outplaying along the way the likes of Germany and Portugal. Results like these aren’t born of a garbage league.

And if what you’re looking for is entertainment, is talent really all that relevant? Toronto sports fans should know better than anyone the answer to that. CFL and OHL, anyone?

And as a season-ticket holder at BMO, I can’t say I pay much mind to what fans in the Premiership do or don’t do. Toronto FC fans are comfortable enough in their own skin to develop their own “traditions” (using your words) without paying any mind to whether it conforms to some European mode of support. That’s part of what makes the scene at BMO special. It’s an experience that, while taking influence from the “old world”, is still a uniquely Toronto creation. The only question worthy of consideration is whether the act of throwing streamers puts players at risk, and that's already been answered.

Finally, I can’t see where you’re coming from on this media thing. Are you suggesting the media has been complimentary towards the on-field performance? The game-day experience and the attention it has garnered has certainly helped cushion the blow in terms of coverage, but I’ve never seen any member of the press call the team’s results anything other than what they are. The team’s not dealing with the kind of scrutiny the Leafs or Jays do, but then again we’re comparing an expansion team with injury trouble to a team going on 40-years without as much as an appearance in the finals and another whose current regime is now approaching seven years without one playoff appearance, despite an ever-increasing payroll.

Also, I don’t know when the last time you checked the MLS standings was, but the current version of Toronto is far from terrible.

Tyler King said...

Andrew: MLS sucks, I'm sorry. It's not comparable to the Bundesliga - I've seen the Bundesliga. The idea of MLS teams beating the worst Premiership team doesn't exactly make it a reputable league. You're right, there's no need to turn my nose up at steak because it isn't filet mignon. But I'd certainly avoid it if someone had defecated on the steak. That's pretty well where I rank MLS.

Neate: Come on - Wilbon said nothing about "people gathering in an open space in their community". He was talking about throwing crap on the field in a supposedly "major league" sporting event. And big whoop if 20,000 people have an emotional investment in the team (it's not even that, considering what chunk is just there to be seen like at the Ex in the late 70s) - this team gets national broadcasts that barely draw an audience. Toronto does not give two craps about this team, yet all the time we hear about how they need more media coverage. They've got too much as it is.

Peter: Don't belittle the name of the CFL and OHL, which actual human beings care about.

And your summary of the team's struggles as being an expansion team with injury troubles is extremely telling. The media was exactly the same. Sure, they set a RECORD for scoring futility, but at least they were trying. Sure, they can't score goals to save their lives, but at least the crowd is loud! Sure, nobody outside the stadium cares about the result of the game, but let's spend all summer talking about them anyway!

And yeah, they're really rocketing up in the standings. Not being in last is the new first. Plus they're actually averaging *more* than a goal per game. That's gotta be some kind of record.

sager said...

Tyler, no one here is out to convert you to the MLS. All I'm going to say is that I used to dislike soccer, but I got past it, realized my cup of tea is not the other guy's cup of tea ... I'm no diehard, but I recognize its right to exist and try to keep up.

"Just remember different people have peculiar tastes." — Lou Reed

Wilbon fails to appreciate that, which makes his shenigans cruel and tragic, as opposed to cheeky and fun — which makes them not shenanigans, really.

Point being, you don't like Toronto FC, but since all we have is our shared subjectivity, acknowledge that some people do. I don't care for MMA (aka Mental Midget Assault). I rank it even lower with a steak with a big turd on it, but I realize it's important since people are following it.

Point being, it's totally uncool for Wilbon to snark off about TFC when he clearly didn't know what he was talking about.

Yes Im Peter Ing said...

Let’s not overstate the importance of the OHL. Even if you were to include the Majors when they played out of Bathurst and St. Clair, the combined average attendance of all three Toronto teams would not be enough to eclipse Toronto FC’s season ticket base, and that’s without including the waiting list.

My summary of the team’s struggles is par for the course for any expansion team. There’s always a honeymoon period, whatever the sport. Being “overrated” is another matter, which is the word you used to describe the coverage. That just wasn’t the case.

And if you actually watched a game this year, you’d see the improvements this team has made. Since bringing in key additions to bolster their midfield, the team has gone 2-0-1 with a goal differential of +4. They’re playing attacking, exciting soccer, and are very much the “it” team in MLS right now. When I speak of the team’s quality, I don’t mean relative to what they did last year. This is a good team, against any standard.

I also take issue with your suggestion that the attendance has been bolstered by some sort of trend-hopping crowd. I’ve heard it before and it just doesn’t work. You can’t compare the Blue Jays experience to that of TFC. Major League Baseball in Toronto meant glamour and status. This was the New York Yankees, CBS live from Toronto, the great American pastime right at our doorstep. This was Toronto entering the big-time, and it fed right into Toronto’s desire to be accepted.

With the MLS you had the very opposite. MLS brought none of the social capital Major League Baseball did. After all, it was the Bob McCowns of the world who argued the MLS wasn’t big enough for the soccer snobs in this city. If anything, the MLS was antithetical to the very crowd the Blue Jays feasted on during the World Series years (and I guess the Ex years – I wouldn’t know). With TFC, MLSE had barely dropped the curtain on their marketing blitz when season ticket sales reached double digits. Yes there’s a buzz now, but the people who pack BMO were in long before that point. In fact, it’s those fans who are responsible for creating the buzz.

Not only that, but the nature of the two crowds are completely different. Even at the team’s peak, Blue Jay games were docile affairs. Going to the Dome seemed to summon the same impulses that come with a day at the beach. Like you said – there to be seen. TFC games are just the opposite. From the first minute of the first home game, TFC fans exhibited all the traits of a savvy, passionate soccer crowd. Because that’s what they are. That’s why the atmosphere was so instantaneous, and that’s why season tickets sold out as quickly as they did. The crowd at BMO didn’t need to wait for TFC to become the “in-thing.” They had been waiting for something like TFC to come along for years, and when it did, they knew exactly what to do.

And assuming, for argument’s sake, that a portion of the 20,000 are there to be seen, then in that case they’ll be easily replaced by the first of the 7000 who currently populate the waiting list.

Two more things:

I don’t agree with Andrew that the average MLS team could compete with the worst Premiership team, but the fact that even the idea of them doing so falls below your line of what constitutes respectable soccer is pretty telling. If the difference in your mind between shit and quality lands somewhere along the lower-mid table of the premiership, then that’s pretty damn elitist. Tyler, I’ve never known you to be a huge follower of the sport outside of the World Cup (this is Jason, by the way), so maybe that’s what’s contributing to your lack of perspective.

Lastly, if throwing junk on the field is bush league, then what does that say about the Blue Jays? I’ll take streamers being thrown in reaction to the game over magnets being tossed (at our own players!) in reaction to boredom and beer any day. I know the yob contingent at Jays games is an easy target, but I couldn’t resist.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

In one way, it might be nice if as few people cared about TFC as Tyler claims: that way, I might actually be able to buy tickets at face value instead of having to pay premiums on EBay. Seeing as that isn't the case (they're always sold out as soon as they go on sale, plus they had to cap season ticket sales and have a waiting list a mile long), I don't think that "Toronto does not give two craps about this team". On the "national broadscasts that barely draw an audience": check out this, where TFC's audience of 108,000 was triple that for the EPL game that morning and 40,000 more than the Sunday EPL match-up (granted, neither involved big teams, but if audience is the sole way to judge sports, MLS is doing better in Canada than the EPL is). Those numbers aren't high compared to sports like baseball and hockey, but they're nothing to scoff at: last time I checked, 108,000 people don't "barely" count as an audience. In fact, that was 28,000 more than the Mets-Phillies baseball audience that weekend: maybe we should drop that if no one's watching it? Also, how aren't they "actual human beings"? Do you have evidence that it's only cyborgs who enjoy soccer?

The point is, there are more people than you think who are passionate about the club. Even Deadspin referred to TFC as "the best sports team in Toronto"! If you feel the need to crap on a good steak and then avoid it, go ahead, but is it really necessary to crap all over everyone else's steak?

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Oh, and at Jason/Peter: I don't think it's all that unreasonable to suggest that a good MLS team (maybe I took it too far with average) could compete with Derby County, as they're one of the worst Premiership teams ever. Also, a couple of summers ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps (a USL team, of all things: if Tyler thinks MLS is that bad, I wonder where the USL winds up) beat Sunderland 3-0 . This was the summer that Sunderland were going to the Premiership for the first time (under idiot manager Mick McCarthy of all people), and they had most of their new signings playing, including current TFC midfielder Carl Robinson, but the Whitecaps absolutely steamrolled them: I know because I was at the match. Granted, it was an off-season friendly and should thus be taken with plenty of salt, but the notion isn't that ridiculous in my mind: some of the bottom EPL teams really aren't all that good, especially Derby.

Tyler King said...

Neate: I never even disliked soccer. I lived in England for a year and love the game. What I hate is MLS being passed off as a quality game.

Wilbon doesn't fail to appreciate different tastes - he just doesn't appreciate the taste of throwing stuff at opposing players and on the field, which is perfectly valid.

And yeah, good on you for realizing MMA's importance because people follow it (same for me). I don't have to do the same with TFC because people are not following it.

Jason: If you think the "three Toronto teams" are anything close to representative of the OHL, you don't know the OHL.

I've also got trouble understanding how record-setting crappiness is "par for the course" for any expansion team.

Nor am I going to jump on the bandwagon based on *three* games. I mean, come on. That proves nothing. There was a time in its first season when people were talking about TFC as a possible playoff contender, just before they went on their futility streak.

I'm actually a huge follower of the sport, including outside the World Cup, and went to games when I lived in England. Soooo that doesn't exactly stick. It actually helps my sense of perspective as to how awful MLS is.

As to the magnet-throwing - they certainly didn't do that every game, and the fans didn't gather around it as part of the "atmosphere".

(By the way, I know you're a passionate fan of the team, which I entirely respect - I tend to exaggerate my opinions on sports for the sake of a more fun debate so don't take offence or anything.)

Andrew: Read over those ratings. TFC on the CBC got less than half the audience of women's curling. The fact that it did better than the EPL has nothing to do with quality and far more to do with distribution. Don't try and act like the Mets-Phillies on a cable network getting less than MLS on a national network implies soccer is anything comparable to baseball in this country. That is some pretty terrible selective statistics.

I hope as well you don't honestly think six words on Deadspin is some kind of national consensus.

sager said...

Tyler, I never said you disliked soccer (I know from past comments that you are a fan, and have your B.S. detector in good working order when it comes to the state of the sport in Canada).

Record-setting crappiness is par for the course with an expansion team.... 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers... 1962 New York Mets.... 1992-93 Ottawa Senators... 1969 Expos who lost 110 games ... 1960 Dallas Cowboys who were winless.

The original points is (a) that Wilbon was being ignorant, as part of the whole notion that PTI has pretty much just degenerated into a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing and (b) to call attention to the fact he called Toronto fans "garbage," which no one else has done.

Lastly, the one point I stand by is that people should support watching sports live in their own corner of the world. You yourself broadcast CIS hockey when you could stay home and watch the TV. I go watch the Carleton Ravens or Ottawa Gee-Gees basketball teams on a Friday instead of the Raptors sometimes, just for a change and to be somewhat social.

Tyler King said...

I don't think he called Toronto fans garbage. He called the product garbage, which on the whole I agree with.

But yeah, PTI is a whole lot of noise because of this obsession with discussing as many topics as possible in as little time as possible that has permeated the sports media (the Score here has been doing it a lot lately). You get zero actual insight, but that's a completely different story.

The CIS example is a bit different. Yes, I broadcast CIS hockey but I understand why commercial media doesn't latch onto it. I don't fault students at Queen's either for not going to football games the past two years when the team had been terrible for several consecutive seasons.

Again, I have no problem with the existence of Toronto FC or anything like that - my problem is with the soft ride they get in the media and this fantasy of some nationally unifying frenzy over this team that simply does not exist.

sager said...

I would disagree on the soft ride and the fantasy.... I don't see it. The Star talked about "giving our coverage more context" and Damien Cox was grousing about blind hype even last season.

I also don't see a big national fervour for the team, although ther's talk of teams in Montreal and Vancouver, and that's in the wake of TFC's commercial success.

It's like the Raptors, the following is Southern Ontario. However, economics being what they are, that means 'national' coverage on cable, since it's not scalable for a local over-the-air broadcaster to take it on.

RickPearce said...

If you don't like TFC or MLS then stop spending so much time posting on the internet about how it sucks. Whats the point? Your bullshit ramblings about it aren't going to prevent anyone whose a fan from continuing to be one. Nor will it stop anyone whose interested in checking it out from checking it out.

I am sure 95% of the fans will call a spade a spade and admit that MLS is nowhere near premiership calibre, does that mean we can't love our team? Are we only allowed to love and cheer for a team if they are one of the highest ranking teams in the world? If so we may as well blow up the fucking maple laughs too.

Bottom line, you are a fucking Dbag. Get a life.

sager said...

We don't go in for name-calling here, sir. Keep that in mind for next time.

Anonymous said...

Tyler, everyone knows exactly where the quality of play in MLS stands. Nobody thinks it's as good as the top leagues in europe (or even the 3rd tier ones).

But the truth isn't where you are, it's where you're going, and MLS is moving in a direction where in 10 years they'll be able to compete with the second tier leagues.

The soccer is going to get better, the atmosphere is great, and as a whole people just want to support a team playing a game they love.

Keep watching Sentanta on saturdays and pretend like you could actually afford tickets to an EPL match.

Tyler King said...

Heh, gotta love the soccerhead masses. Resort to name-calling because the product isn't good enough to justify an argument.

Rick: My "ramblings", which I've apparently spent a massive amount of time on (news to me), might not stop TFC's fans from being fans, but it's hard enought to find their fans anyway.

It's also great that my argument has been transformed into "TFC is terrible because MLS is not as good as the EPL". I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying it's a mind-numbingly overrated product.

And Neate, it's not like the Raptors - Southern Ontario does not follow Toronto FC. The people at BMO Field, and a helping of people outside it, follow TFC. Don't sully the good name of Southern Ontario sports fans in such a way.

Anonymous: As fun as a cool-sounding non sequitur to end a rebuttal is for you, whether or not I can "afford" tickets to an EPL match has nothing to do with this issue. I've already been to EPL matches, by the way.

I also don't subscribe to Setanta. Or even "Sentanta", its dyslexic cousin that you apparently frequent.

Also, a prediction - no matter how much better MLS gets over the next 10 years, nobody will start taking a league containing names like "Real Salt Lake" seriously.

Here's another thing - if it's MLS, and not MLF, shouldn't it be Toronto SC?

sager said...

Same reason you drive on a parkway and park in a driveway ... plus MLF is too close to MILF.

Tyler King said...

Nonononono it's totally different.

And it had been MLS for some time, so I'd have thought the onus would be on the team to be Toronto SC.

sager said...

Just consider us lucky they didn't go with United.

Anonymous said...

OHL ratings on Sportsnet Sunday = 67,000.

TFC = 107k

So, um, yeah...

Duane R