April 29, 2007 Toronto FC lose 1-0 to Kansas City losing streak (from Globe and Mail)

POSTED ON: 29/04/07
Brunt: TFC an undeniable hit with fans

Globe and Mail Update

Toronto — There's reason Broadway shows begin life in the boondocks before the critics are given a look.

It's a way to eliminate the bugs, to add and subtract, to see the work in progress and refine it, all in anticipation of opening night.

This spring, Toronto's new professional soccer franchise came together at a Florida training camp that was scarcely noticed, played a series of quiet exhibitions, began the regular season in Carson, Calif. and Kansas City, before heading for Boston (well, technically, Foxboro), traditional launch point before hitting the Great White Way.

It wasn't pretty. The cast was in constant flux. The base formation changed a couple of times. Toronto FC lost the three games that counted without scoring a single goal, and then headed home for the big debut against the Kansas City Wizards, understandably a little uncertain of what lay ahead.

And now, they find themselves an undeniable hit. Not a critic's choice perhaps, still winless, still goalless. But the audience that was waiting for them Saturday afternoon for the first match ever at BMO Field was more than halfway to loving them long before the opening kick.

The fans saw what they wanted to see, they felt what they wanted to feel, they embraced a team that's still struggling to find its legs, and especially they enjoyed the place, the setting, the experience.

To see a real scarf-wearing soccer crowd file into the park, to hear the chanting and the singing and stomping, to hear the implied shout out at all of those who still don't get it…it was thrilling stuff. "It's been a long time since I've had goosebumps at a match," TFC coach Mo Johnston said afterwards. He wasn't alone.

Not that there weren't quibbles. Not long after the game, reports began to filter out about ticketing snafus and long lines for the washrooms and the concessions, along with the usual complaints about what it costs to buy a beer at a place like this.

And the team, though a whole lot better, more committed and more coherent than in its first three regular season matches, still isn't quite there yet.

Johnston seems to have solved many of the problems at the back, going to a standard four, and adding New Zealander Andrew Boyens. Fullback Marvell Wynne, a recent addition, brings great wheels, and is terrific when he joins the attack. And up front, TFC unveiled its first real hero, shaved-headed striker Danny Dichio, who is tall and tough and extremely nasty, a nice compliment to quick, clever Alecko Eskandarian. Anyone who thought soccer a non-contact sport, or the exclusive territory of faking, flopping prima-donnas, would have been shocked at just how rough the game was.

Toronto was unlucky not to score in the first half against a very good Kansas City side. In the second, though, they became strangely passive, conservative, negative, playing a little scared, and as a result there was a certain inevitability about the Wizards' winning goal, off the foot of the best player on the pitch, U.S. international striker Eddie Johnson.

Johnson chose to celebrate his achievement at the south end of the stadium, right in the face of the Red Patch Boys and the U Sector and the other full-voiced supporters who provided much of the day's atmosphere. For his troubles he was drenched with some of that MLSE beer that's priced like fine wine, which was a bit much. But who'd have thought that a soccer stadium in Toronto might turn out to be an intimating place to play?

There are plenty of instances in theatre history of the populist hit, of shows that didn't receive rave reviews when they opened, but were carried for years because they found an audience looking for just what they delivered.

That's what's happening here right now. No, it's not the best football on the planet. No, it's not the best team in this league. No, it's not real grass. No the stadium isn't monumental, or posh, or perfect in every respect.

But the people who showed up Saturday, and who will show up all summer long, weren't sitting back, waiting to be impressed. They arrived already possessing a rooting interest — not just in the team, but in the sport - and they arrived expecting to have fun.

That's something we haven't seen much here at the Centre of the Universe. The early notices suggest that this could be a long run.

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