What fun is losing?

GARETH WHEELER

, Last Updated: 3:05 AM ET

At least we will have natural grass at BMO Field next year.

That was the message delivered by Toronto FC's self-run television channel on Saturday night after the team's ugly, uninspired 5-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, dashing all hopes for a Major League Soccer playoff berth.

A positive spin -- the perfect way to deflect attention from the embarrassment of not showing up to compete in the biggest game in franchise history.

Why should one measly loss get in the way of a feel-good story, which is exactly what TFC has been from Day 1?

Those at TFC will tell you, the club is a work in progress. The playoffs would have been nice and winning is always better.

But TFC is only three years old and the more important overlying message is that the fan experience is an enjoyable one. You get a sense of belonging being a TFC supporter. From making banners, to singing songs and making friends along the way, it's all really cool and a whole lot of fun.

The team does a fantastic job selling the fan experience and there's nothing wrong with that -- except for the small fact that, from a competitive, sporting perspective, TFC is far from enjoyable.

APATHY ON PITCH

All the fun stuff has created apathy with the on-field product. The wins will come, or so you are told. Just keep supporting the team, buying merchandise and renewing your season tickets regardless of price increases, because a winner is right around the corner.

The problem is that, under the regime of Mo Johnston, there is little to suggest anything will change.

Johnston has a firm grip running the soccer side of TFC. All decisions are his, and that means all of the shortcomings fall on him, as well -- including the team dysfunction that came to the surface after the final whistle in New Jersey on Saturday night.

A head coach who would rather be elsewhere than in Toronto, players questioning one another, a culture of failure and zero tactical consideration in the composition of the team -- all problems that have been there all along.

And what has been done to cure the ills plaguing the team? Shortsighted, band-aid solutions.

And it starts at the top, with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. Johnston's yet-to-be-announced contract extension is just part of the lack of soccer acumen and vision among those making decisions.

Aside from bringing home Canadian players who publicly wanted to play in Toronto, what has Johnston done to make the team better?

The myth that Johnston has a keen eye for young talent can be debated by the fact he overlooked Los Angeles Galaxy standout centre-back Omar Gonzalez in favour of a redundant centre-midfield option in Sam Cronin at last year's SuperDraft. It's no coincidence the Galaxy won the Western Division with a commandeering centre-back while TFC continues to be shelled.

Naming Chris Cummins, with no first-team head-coaching experience, as interim head coach after John Carver abruptly left, was massively shortsighted. Cummins was a knee-jerk, easy and cheap option after the team grinded out a couple of wins with him initially on the sidelines. Now, after three years of no playoffs and three coaches, there is still no team direction. And the calls for New England Revolution head coach Steve Nichol to join Toronto grow louder by the day.

REVOLVING DOOR

Regardless of Cummins, the continued trial-by-error revolving door of players gave the team little hope for any kind of consistency. No natural wing players, a leaky defence and no proven goal-scorer outside of Dwayne de Rosario doesn't flatter Johnston's resume either.

Forget about the Miracle in Montreal, which was more like a gift from the Impact anyway. It was a miracle TFC was even in playoff contention on the final day of the season.

And through it all, the team is still selling the illusion that TFC is something more grandiose than it really is. Julian de Guzman took the bait, deciding to sign with the Reds. A penny for his thoughts now.

Still, despite letdown after letdown, there are those who support the team unequivocally. They have passion. They're having fun.

But the question going forward is this: How much on-field disappointment will they take before they turn away? The casual fan may be leaning that way already. It's the diehards TFC can ill-afford to lose.

Changes will be made. The status quo isn't good enough. The team will even tell you that. But it will be the same guy calling the shots.

As long as the tickets are sold, merchandise is being bought and the fans are having a good time, all will be good with Toronto's soccer team -- at least in its own eyes.

GARETH.WHEELER@SUNTV.CANOE.CA


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