|TARA WALTON/TORONTO STAR|
|TFC's place in the standings just doesn't line up.|
THE REAL STANDINGS
Anyone who follows Toronto FC is painfully aware of where the second-year franchise ranks in the league standings.
For those who didn't bother to click the link, TFC heads into Saturday's game four spots from the bottom of the league. Like Los Angeles, Kansas City and FC Dallas, they're stuck at 26 points, but climb a little above those other teams because they've got one more win.
But forget wins and losses for a minute because there's another game being played here.
Three years ago Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment paid Major League Soccer $10 million for the right to bring an expansion team to Toronto. Today, according to Forbes, Toronto FC is worth $44 million (U.S.), second only to the Los Angeles Galaxy, which Forbes values at $100 million.
The survey excluded the expansion San Jose Earthquakes, but according to Forbes' research, only three of the remaining 13 MLS teams posted a profit in 2007: L.A. ($4 million), TFC ($2.1 million) and FC Dallas ($500,000).
Anyone else find it ironic that the league's most profitable squads currently occupy three of the bottom four spots in the standings, while perennial contenders D.C., Houston and New England posted an average loss of $2.1 million?
And is anyone else wondering how long that trend can last?
I mean, it's great that David Beckham's presence has prompted fans in L.A. and beyond to embrace the Galaxy, whose reported $36 million in revenue surpasses the combined total of the next two highest-grossing teams.
You can argue that by boosting the Galaxy's revenues, Beckham has done his job in L.A., whether the team finishes first or whether they extend a winless streak that dates back to June and finish at the bottom of the league.
But you can also argue that even the Beckham honeymoon has to end sometime, and that if the league's biggest name doesn't start winning games, fan interest and Galaxy revenue could dip.
Likewise, few observers in Toronto expected TFC to sell out virtually every home game for the first two seasons, even as the team endured goal droughts, winless streaks and a constantly evolving roster. So maybe, like the Maple Leafs, the team doesn't need to win games to keep selling tickets.
But is anyone involved with TFC -- officials, players, fans -- willing to take that chance?
It's one thing to sell out BMO Field on a sunny, midsummer day, and something else to fill the place on a dreary afternoon in October if TFC finds itself out of playoff contention for the second straight year.
TITUS STILL PLAYING...FOR FREE (!)
After a few days spent covering that other kind of football I returned to TFC practice today to find Rick Titus still working out with the team. The 39-year-old defender and former Toronto Lynx regular lined up with TFC last week, called in as a last-minute replacement on a team hamstrung by nine international absences and a last-minute injury to Abdus Ibrahim.
After logging 90 minutes last Friday with one of his many men's league teams, Titus played 90 more for TFC against Chivas. And he did it for free, because accepting payment would compromise his amateur status and render him ineligible for the remainder of the men's league season.
Earlier this afternoon TFC head coach John Carver said he's considering keeping Titus around for the rest of the season, though the "play for no pay" rule would still apply.
The proposal raises questions on three levels:
On the field...How (un)healthy is your team when you're entering the final quarter of your regular season and one of your key stretch-run acquisitions is (literally) a 39-year-old amateur?
In the press box... How can you convince the media and fans that Major League Soccer really is a major league when you're signing guys off the street to contracts that pay nothing? If the mainstream media were interested in pro-am leagues we'd have been covering the CSL all along.
In the real world... How does the MLS players' union feel about guys playing in the league for free? I put in a call to the president but I haven't heard back yet. I can't see the union in this newsroom allowing someone to put in a full work week for a T-shirt and a pat on the back, but the MLS union may be different. I realize they see no problem with developmental players playing for next to nothing ($12,900 per season minimum), but even they have their limits.
Couple of new faces at TFC practice this afternoon.
One was Brian Kerr, a former midfielder at Hibernian who spent time with Carver at Newcastle early in the decade.
The other was Pablo Gallardo, a defender who once played on Spain's under-19 national team.