As the Best of 2012 series continues on MLSsoccer.com, we're counting down the 12 most important stories of the year in Major League Soccer. We'll take a look at one story per day from Dec. 19 until Dec. 30, when we unveil what our panel of 20 editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists voted as the Story of the Year in MLS in 2012.
MLSsoccer.com contributor and Monday Postgame writer John Bolster examines the story at No. 9: An unforgettable season in Toronto. Despite a strong outing in the CONCACAF Champions League, the Reds skidded to the worst start in league history, fired their head coach and eventually rolled back ticket prices to appease a restless fanbase.
They’re on opposite sides of the continent, and in many respects the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC have provided opposite examples for MLS expansion: the how to, and the how not to.
While Seattle have had one coach for their entire existence and reached the playoffs in each of their first four seasons, Toronto are on their seventh coach in six years and have yet to qualify for the MLS postseason.
by Dan Kennedy
MLS All-Stars upset Chelsea
It was my first All-Star experience, and being there was surreal for me. I remember the day before the game we were working on a shooting drill and the lineup in workouts was Beckham, Henry, Wondo, De Rosario, Pontius, Wondo … all these guys were coming at me. It was the highest quality I’d ever been a part of.
The play before the goal was the best save I made, down to my right against Lampard. I think I was so pumped up from that play that I thought I could get to a cross that I actually couldn’t get to. Then Lampard scored, and it was kind of I got the better of him once and then he got the better of me. I remember shaking hands with those guys after the game and they had literally just come off their Champions League victory, and I had watched so much of it, to play against them was just an amazing experience.
I went up to Lampard after the game to congratulate him and I said, ‘you got me.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘yeah, but what a save.’ It was pretty rewarding.
The two clubs do converge in one area, though, and that’s fan support. Both sides were blessed with excellent fan bases from the get-go, as locals packed their stadiums, providing two of the best, most raucous atmospheres in the league.
There are several reasons it’s a shame things haven’t gone as planned for TFC, but that’s the main one: Toronto fans deserve better.
They probably thought they were going to get it this year, too, when the Reds began the 2012 campaign with a surprising win over the defending MLS champion LA Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in March. The upset eliminated LA from the competition and made TFC the first Canadian side ever to reach the CCL semifinals.
But the Reds, who began their MLS existence in 2007 with four straight shutout losses, quickly reverted to form. They lost their first nine games of 2012 to set a record for the worst start to a season in MLS history (0-9-0).
It was the second year under the management team headed by ex-Dutch international Aron Winter, and it was off to a disastrous start.
Following the ninth defeat of the skid, a 3-1 loss to D.C. United, a visibly distressed Danny Koevermans said, “we’re setting a record of the worst team in the world, and it’s painful.”
Toronto won their next game, edging Philadelphia 1-0 at BMO Field, but that first victory of the year was not enough to save head coach Winter’s job. The club parted ways with him two weeks later, handing the reins to assistant Paul Mariner.
After a 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on June 16, Mariner engineered a brief midsummer revival, as the Reds lost just one of their next nine matches and reeled off a three-game winning streak in July.
Any hopes raised by that brief burst, though, were gradually grinded to bits. The Reds wouldn’t win another game all year.
They lost Koevermans—their leading scorer with nine goals in 16 games—to a torn ACL on July 14. They traded for former Vancouver striker Eric Hassli to replace the Dutch Designated Player, but went on to lose four of their next five matches.
In September, the Reds announced that their other D.P., former German international Torsten Frings, needed surgery on his hip and would miss the rest of the season. TFC ended up losing 10 of their last 14 games to finish 5-21-8, dead last in the league and out of the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
By season’s end, fans were turning up in the supporters’ section with brown paper bags over their heads. But management hadn’t forgotten previous seasons, when Torontonians supported their club proudly, and in numbers. On Oct 19 the front office announced that the bulk of 2013 season tickets would be “rolled back” to 2007 prices.
Cheap seats now, full houses later? Only a winning team can bring that to Toronto.
“We’ve let them down in the quality of the product,” club President and COO Tom Anselmi told The Canadian Press. “This is really trying to recognize their support, their loyalty. They’ve done their job and we haven’t done ours. And we’ve got to get it right.”