TFC needs to open vault

GARETH WHEELER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

To designate, or not to designate, that is the question?

Sounds poetic but, according to reports, that question already has been put to the board of directors at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., and will be voted on next Monday -- whether or not Toronto FC needs and will be allowed to pursue a designated player for next season.

A DP, regarded as one of the missing links for TFC, allows a team to pay a player essentially as much as it wants, with only $400,000 US of that salary being counted against the cap.

It is seen by the fan base as a necessary step to take from a competitive point of view, as well as a symbolic gesture by the organization to show it is committed to putting a winner on the field.

Signing a DP would eliminate the beliefs of many disgruntled TFC supporters that the organization doesn't want to spend money, and that a DP-type player wouldn't want to come to Toronto and play on FieldTurf.

General manager Mo Johnston is on record as saying a DP during the formulative years of the franchise isn't necessary.

"The tickets are sold" is what Johnston told me before TFC had ever taken the field for the first time two years ago. So, from a marketing perspective, a DP wasn't needed.

This season, apparently, a DP wasn't required, either. More tickets were sold, so why break the bank when the team didn't have to?

Now, however, things have changed. The franchise has publicly acknowledged it is time for the quality of the team on the field to match the extra-curriculars that make the team so special. Johnston says the DP issue will be explored when the team is close to becoming a winner.

But this is where the pressure kicks in. The most die-hard fans have had their patience tested. Same goes for head coach John Carver, who stated that TFC getting a DP is essentially a prerequisite for him to continue with the team -- though that stance has since been softened.

And then along comes the Seattle Sounders FC.

The expansion side from the Pacific Northwest, heading into its inaugural campaign, last week signed a DP of its own -- 31-year-old, former Swedish international Freddie Ljungberg -- as its first player and the focal point of the franchise. Ljungberg made a name for himself with Arsenal and, most recently, suffered through an injury-plagued season with West Ham United.

Signing a DP from Day 1 is a drastically different strategy than the approach taken by TFC.

Is one strategy preferable to the other? Absolutely. The Sounders have been criticized for the move, but good on them.

Nevermind Ljungberg's $2.5-million salary per season. Nevermind the health concerns and questionable name-recognition value. The Sounders have ponied up, showing their commitment to the product. Aside from the symbolic nature of the signing, it's clear the Sounders believe they can be competitive from the get-go.

Keep in mind that MajorLeague Soccer will consist of 15 teams next year and only eight will make the playoffs. This year's expansion side, the San Jose Earthquakes, finished only six points back of a post-season berth.

So, it doesn't take much to put your team in a position to compete. At least it shouldn't.

In saying that, a DP doesn't guarantee success. Five MLS teams have at least one DP, and of the five, three made the playoffs. It also should be noted that the two division winners -- Columbus and Houston -- do not have DPs.

Nevertheless, win, lose or draw, the Sounders' commitment to putting a winner on the field cannot be questioned.

Now it's up to TFC to prove the same.

NEARING ITS GOL?

As reported earlier this week, MLSEL's interest in acquiring GolTV has some serious legs. Sources say the talks between Insight Sports and MLSEL are, in fact, legit and it's more of a matter of when, than if.

The acquisition of Gol TV not only would open the door for MLSEL to create a TFC channel in the mold of its Leafs and Raptors stations, but it could lead to one all-encompassing channel.

From a soccer perspective, a channel that TFC could call home would be a breath of fresh air, with TFC, CONCACAF Champions League, and MLS games often times being cast away to the nether levels of the television dial on CBC Bold.

The idea for a channel linking all gained further momentum with Friday's CRTC ruling, deregulating certain restraints that have limited what particular channels had to show.


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