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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Toronto FC as a superclub is good for MLS

Photo credit: Toronto FC

For several years now MLS has had two superclubs: New York Red Bulls and LA Galaxy. Toronto FC is making sure that this will no longer be the case.

The blockbuster deals for Jermain Defoe an Michael Bradley were the icing on the cake for a team that was rebuilding and recharging. And while Defoe coming to Toronto would sell tickets and deliver goals, it was Michael Bradley's move that meant the team was serious about competing by revamping itself up and down its spine.

We all know the Beckham story and how his transfer changed the league forever. The Galaxy got two championships, worldwide recognition and the ability to not only keep Donovan and Gonzalez, but also to acquire Robbie Keane. 

New York had a more difficult time in the post DP universe of MLS. Juan Pablo Angel was a scorer but never with the same cache. Enter Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez and all that went out the window. That they didn't win any trophies until last season is a matter of on field calculations and depth building. Mike Petke seems to have found the right formula and the DP strategy is finally paying off with Tim Cahil's arrival.

There is a case to be made for Seattle as another so-called super club, but Obefemi Martins is no household name and Osvaldo Alonso is more of a local hero. Dempsey is their figure but not enough, it seems, to reach the top yet.

But what to make of Toronto's foray into The superclub world? Sure, Frings was a recognizable name in those educated in football lore. But it's not the same as signing Defoe and Bradley, plus adding Gilberto and Dwayne DeRosario to stack the attacking front of the team. If TFC is able to get a steady defense going and build around a special player (as the Galaxy did with Gonzalez), then this team can be truly special.

Competition. That's what it comes down to. And while a blue-collar team like Sporting KC can still win tournaments, the pressure of playing against superstars makes every team that much better on the pitch. This is why relegation-threatened squads in other countries have quality players. MLS will have more options now for its squads, a chance to train better, to let players move abroad, to sign more superstars, and eventually to grow our own superstars. 

Toronto was a gleaming jewel in attendance when it first entered the league. It waned a bit with all the misfortunes an lack of playoffs. But the fans are as committed as ever and they deserve a great soccer team. Toronto can be what Chelsea is to Manchester United and Arsenal, an alternative quality club.

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