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The rest of TFC’s 2013 season: Why bother?

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by Daniel Squizzata (squizz), SOME CANADIAN GUYS, 08-27-2013

To the mathematical sticklers out there, a disclaimer: Yes, it is still technically within the realm of possibility that Toronto FC will qualify for the 2013 Major League Soccer playoffs. They sit 15 points adrift of the final spot in the East which, as of the latest numbers, gives them approximately a 0.001% chance of pulling it off.

But for those of us living in reality, this is another lost campaign for TFC. No playoffs, no silverware and, seemingly, not much reason to care about the two months left in the seas– oh my God two more months of this are you serious how is that even…. ahem.

Of course, Toronto sports fans are very well accustomed to their teams “playing out the string” of meaningless late-season games*, given that TFC, the Raptors and the Blue Jays treat us to it on a pretty much yearly basis (the Leafs, on the other hand, have their own special brand of maddening mediocrity, one that is well beyond the scope of this article). So, we’ve also gotten used to developing coping mechanisms** to convince ourselves that our ongoing emotional investment isn’t completely worthless.

In that spirit, let’s take a look at some of the reasons for Toronto FC fans to pick their chins up, shake the dirt off their shoulders and fully indulge in all that the remainder of the Reds’ 2013 season has to offer:

Playing spoiler. This is the reason most cited by the sports media and team executives as to why fans should continue to care, once their team has already been eliminated from playoff contention. Of course, it’s an entirely nonsensical and self-serving argument, designed to convince us to continue watching highlights shows, buying newspapers and shelling out for tickets.

But looking at it rationally, why the hell would a fan of a bad team possibly care whether or not their squad is able to “spoil” the prospects of whichever other random teams they happened to have been assigned to play late in their season? If it’s a big rival, OK, sure. Beyond that, though, you’d have to be a pretty angry, bitter and nihilistic person to wish ill on others just for the sake of it.

Thankfully, supporting TFC for any extended period of time will generally drive a person towards anger, bitterness and nihilism, so the idea of hoping for the team to play spoiler in 2013 makes perfect sense.

“Earning” a high draft pick. Ah yes, the North American “draft” model, where fans openly root against their own team for extended periods (in some cases, for entire seasons) in the hopes that they’ll get a shot at the following year’s most promising youngster. Toronto FC’s abysmal 2012 campaign “earned” them this right in 2013, whereupon they flipped the top pick for Kyle Bekker (who never plays) and a bunch of allocation money (much of which was probably spent on Maxi Urruti, who never plays).***

Just think of what non-active asset the team could acquire in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, based on the high first-round pick they’ll get as a result of their crummy results in the 2013 campaign! They could… wait, I’m sorry, what? Oh yeah, forgot about that. Ahem, OK then, what I really meant was…

Screw over the Whitecaps! Yes, since Toronto FC’s finish this season will determine where Vancouver drafts in the first round in 2014 (TFC having traded its 2014 first-round pick to the ‘Caps in the Eric Hassli deal), it’s in Toronto’s best interests to finish as high as possible, to minimize the impact of what, in retrospect, was an absolutely wretched trade on TFC’s part. If you’re unsure of why screwing over the Whitecaps would be of concern to TFC fans, please re-read the above section about anger, bitterness and nihilism.

Watch the young Canadians on display. This is the first item in this list that won’t be entirely sardonic. I mean, come on, 2013 has given us the unexpected breakthrough of Jonathan Osorio (who, of course, may be out injured) as well as Doneil Henry’s evolution into a regular MLS starter. Ashtone Morgan is experiencing a bit of a resurgence after a rough start to the campaign and hey, with nothing on the line, maybe the team will finally be convinced to give first-round draft picks Bekker and Emery Welshman a go! (Anything’s possible).

I’d say that TFC Academy graduate Manny Aparicio may also get a run-out, but TFC doesn’t have any more friendlies against disinterested European super-clubs this year, so maybe that’s asking too much.

Watch the young newcomers on display. Young Designated Player Matias Laba has been a solid addition to Toronto FC’s core — so, of course, he’ll spend most of the remainder of the season out with a foot injury. But Urruti, 22, and Alvaro Rey, 24, will surely be given their minutes eventually — and one way or another, it’ll be interesting to see what these two attack-minded players can do (as a harbinger of what they may be able to do in years to come, of course).

Or they’ll just ride the bench in favour of Justin Braun and Reggie Lambe. Who knows.

Watch Payne and Nelsen sing for their supper. Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: Regardless of your thoughts on Kevin Payne and Ryan Nelsen either personally or professionally, anyone with a vested interest in seeing Toronto FC succeed should be able to agree that firing either or both of them anytime soon would be catastrophically stupid. Of course, the fact that we’re even contemplating the possibility of another wholesale changing of the guard at this point shows how accustomed we’ve become to the idea of TFC as being pathetically dysfunctional.

Whatever faults Payne and Nelsen may have, and whatever missteps they’ve made so far, the reality is that above all, this club needs some semblance of stability. Payne and Nelsen need to have the chance to see their plan out — which will take (at the absolute minimum) two full seasons to fully ascertain. Most fans realize this, of course, but concern comes from whether those at the top (newcomer Tim Leiweke and the relatively new head honchos at MLSE) understand this reality in the context of TFC’s situation and history — or whether their itchy trigger fingers and desire to “do something” (or be seen as doing something) will result in an idiotic, short-sighted, reactionary move.

So anyway, even if the rest of the games mean nothing this year, those of us hoping for some eventual success for the team probably oughta hope for some victories down the stretch, if for no other reason than to keep the corporate reactionaries at bay.

Putting in the work now to savour the eventual rewards. Without delving into the insipid and counter-productive ideas about how some TFC fans are different than other TFC fans, let’s all agree on one thing: Those who pour the most time and energy into a cause (whether it’s cheering for a sports team, supporting a political movement, building a barn or whatever) are the ones who will feel the greatest sense of gratification if and when the mission is accomplished.

And if you’re reading this article as a TFC fan, it’s safe to assume you’re invested in this team. You’ve paid your dues, time after time. Despite having done nothing wrong, you’ve toughed out fandom that at times surely felt like a prison sentence. Yes, it’s been no bed of roses, and no pleasure cruise. But on that day, that fateful, probably-imaginary day when Freddy Mercury’s triumphant chorus blares loudly (and unironically) from the sound system at BMO Field, you will know that you were there when everything was crap, but you stuck it out — and the victory will feel that much sweeter as a result.

So, yes, a reason to continue watching TFC is essentially masochistic self-punishment that’s being weighted against an emotional reward that is in no way guaranteed of ever happening. Hooray for sports!

Having a team is better than not having a team. It probably doesn’t feel like this very often in Toronto any more as it relates to MLS, given TFC’s fortunes. And I’m not part of the “old school” crowd that would assemble at Centennial Stadium in Etobicoke and dream of the day Hogtown would have a pro team to call its own. But still, looking at the excitement and optimism being generated in cities on both sides of the border about the prospect of having their own MLS team is a nice little reminder that however bad things may be now, we’re here — and we have a chance to make it better.

That’s not to say that we should be complacent, and accept perennial mediocrity as the trade-off for being blessed enough to have a team at all. But every season and every game needs to be taken within the proper context.

To sit back and be content just watching and being entertained by a game late in TFC’s 2013 season, without feeling the need to be sullen or rebellious or pissed off, isn’t a blanket acceptance of missing the playoffs again. It’s an understanding that in what was always going to be a “rebuilding” year, there’s still some pleasure to be gained from watching Toronto represented in the top-flight domestic league — even if the playoffs are no longer attainable.

That’s not good enough for some people. And that’s fine. I’ve never wanted (or attempted) to lecture anyone on how to support a team that they like. But to the question posed in the headline of this article, as it relates to the remainder of Toronto’s league campaign — “why bother?” — the best possible answer to that question is another question:

Why not?

You may have a perfectly valid answer. Or several. We all know TFC has provided plenty of them over the years. But if you can’t drum up a sufficiently compelling response, then hey, what the hell, let’s see this thing out and maybe we’ll even get a little (very little) bit of sports-related pleasure along the way.

Besides — as Toronto sports fans are also very accustomed to saying — there’s always next year.

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