It’s probably too soon to call Toronto FC’s 2012 season a failure.
There are 30 games left in the MLS regular season plus a Voyageurs Cup to defend. An oh-for-four start to the league—and just one win in eight overall—is bleak, but not impossible to overcome.
A rational fan should understand that. However, TFC fans ceased being rational sometime around 2008. The Reds do that to people. After all, Saturday’s loss to Montreal was the 79th all-time defeat to Toronto in less than six full seasons. Considering TFC plays in a league designed to promote parity that’s abysmal.
So Toronto fans can be forgiven for lacking hope that the bad start is a mirage and that good times are still to come. At the conclusion of the Montreal game, the travelling support couldn’t even be bothered to boo. The prevailing mood in the Toronto section was numbness. Of course the Reds gave the Impact its first win. Did anyone think any other outcome was possible? If they did, they must not have been paying attention.
In the early days of the club most of the attention was focused on the fans. They were a rowdy bunch that defied the stereotype of the suit wearing, passive Toronto sports fan. The club wasn’t very good, but that was to be expected from an expansion team. People would go to BMO Field just to see the nuts sing and dance in the southeast corner of the stadium.
It was cute for a while. When those same fans remain the most entertaining thing on display in that stadium five years later, it’s not.
And, make no mistake, more often than not they are. If this club doesn’t figure itself out soon they might be the only fans in the stadium before long.
Toronto FC is at a crossroads. It has survived losing seasons and fan unrest up until now, but if things don’t turn around soon the team will face something far more dangerous: indifference.
You are already seeing it. At the first two MLS games there were tonnes of empty seats in the second deck. The announced crowd—and there have always been questions about whether what’s announced reflects what’s actually in the stadium—showed close to 3,000 empty chairs. You can expect a similar number this Saturday against Chivas.
And God help the club if it tries to raise ticket prices when the one year freeze ends at the completion of the 2012 season.
The failure of MLSE’s other major sports properties—the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and NBA’s Toronto Raptors—clouds the situation even further, as does a suddenly hot again Toronto Blue Jays, who are attracting many of the young party crowd that used to go to TFC games.
The solution to this is simple: the team needs to win. But how do you do that if you are TFC? There is nothing simple about that and that’s the biggest challenge facing the club in its efforts to reengage its fans.
Reds fans are more than frustrated by the losing. They also feel hopeless about the future. They understand that there is no easy fix. It’s clear that the only thing to do now is to wait it out and see if Aron Winter’s plan works.
It was easier when there was an identifiable villain. When Mo Johnson was in charge TFC fans could point to him and say if only he were gone all would be better. Well, he is gone and it might be worse.
Winter’s no villain. Actually he inspires neither hatred nor excitement amongst the faithful. No one has quite figured out whether he’s on the right track (although results might suggest that he isn’t) and everyone understands that it’s too early to pull the plug on him (but fears that too much damage will be done if he’s given too much time).
So, Reds’ fans wait — stuck in a MLS purgatory hoping that there is a way out. And wondering if anyone will still care by the time TFC finds it.