So I went to this thing because I can go to these things. It was held at Real Sports Bar & Grill, the darkly lit screen palace for inveterate gamblers and sports addicts who like bad beer. Supporters gathered on the upper deck to overlook proceedings, ignoring official requests to, you know, not express their excitement. Strawberry shortcakes were passed around in abundance. The Toronto Raptors’ Masai Ujiri sat and watched, with few recognizing him (including this guy).
Significantly, it still wasn’t a sure thing even from the get-go Bradley would be there. Talk was of Defoe, and a large Routemaster emblazoned with It’s a Bloody Big Deal stood out front in the street giving the whole thing an Anglophilic air (Defoe was not inside, because he’s a person who is presumably normal). theScore alum Sean Keay wore proper pants. His shirt was tucked in. Bloody Big Deal.
The press assembled in their seats, some glad-handling, others almost shell-shocked. Some had already decided in advance Toronto FC was an MLS Cup contender (perhaps not coincidentally those whose connections to the CEO got them the Bradley scoop). MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke disagreed, however: “We haven’t accomplished anything,” which sounded only slight absurd flanked as he was by an erstwhile Premier League starter with double digit goal tallies in his last two seasons and a 26 year old US mens national team regular who Roma were sad to lose. But people got it. These unbeatable assemblies get touted and hyped all the time. Seasons are played game by game, shot by shot, injury by injury.
Even so, the group on stage knew what they pulled off in this, and so they smirked like hell under the lights, smirked in crowded scrums with recorders shoved in their faces, smirked as they were whisked away by handlers. They smirked because making this happen wasn’t easy.
After all, how many routine player transfers live or die on the availability of both Drake and David Beckham, not to mention some developmental/marketing quid pro quos which may lean more to the quid than the quo? Leiweke, the man who convinced David Beckham to come to MLS, sold a bona fide DP and a star midfielder in the prime of his career on Toronto FC, a team with a 23% career win percentage in a city located in Canada, not a nation associated with elite football by any measure. They sold them on a long-term vision.
“Why can’t we be great?” Leiweke asked. Nothing about today should convince anyone that good times are a sure thing. Winning in MLS often involves a mix of consistency, intelligent planning, risk management, and faith in a stable first team. You can buy the good players and still be a Red Bulls. But what matters is whether this club is planning on what to do in a worse case scenario, how to address issues with Ryan Nelsen’s leadership, should they arise, as head coach.
The cliche is to write, “but those matters can wait for another day.” No. They can’t. Toronto FC and MLSE have invested too much in this to just sign off and let the wins roll in.