Rocket Robin Report: TFC President’s Breakfast

Details of the TFC Presidents Breakfast held on Friday February 24, 2017 at Real Sports Bar & Grill in downtown Toronto from 8:30 to 10:30am.

E-mail said “Breakfast will be provided and we may have a surprise in store regarding the new 2017 jersey”.

The presentation got started at 9:30am with a stage of TFC broadcaster Luke Wileman as the MC; former player Steven Caldwell who it was announced in his intro will now be on all the TFC broadcasts; Bill Manning president of TFC; and Tim Bezbatchenko general manager of TFC.

Of course the players and head coach are still in Florida for the team’s preseason so we didn’t expect to see them here today.

Manning answered his own ‘proud of the team question’ with a statement of the team having unfinished business for 2017. He thanked the fans and the media for their support. He said he held the position for eight to ten years for Real Salt Lake and their fans were uneducated whereas Toronto fans were very knowledgeable about the history of soccer in Toronto then he name-dropped Metros Croatia, the Blizzard, and the Lynx.

A short video was shown named ‘Dawn of the Reds‘. There was a quote of ‘the streets run red’ and a soccer ball on fire, a little girl looking out her bedroom window at night and seeing rioters (oops supporters) with torches on the street. [Sorry guys I’m ignorant about the new TV shows with zombies etc so I go back to historical quotes I’ve seen from dictators about the streets running red with blood.] The video is on their website so I expect the chief demographic will have previewed it and loved it before it came out.

Manning continued by saying he thought TFC were the best club in the league from August until the end of the season. We want to win the MLS championship but also have longevity (like LA Galaxy during their five championship years). To achieve this it starts with a core of players instead of rebuilding the club each year (like early TFC teams).

Wileman and Caldwell now looped some softball questions at Manning and Bezbatchenko.

Manning answered the Sebastian Giovinco-to-China rumours that were circulating back in January. He said those reports were greatly exaggerated. Because Seba had said he was happy in Toronto, they weren’t worried but to be polite he and the agent listened to all the offers. Manning warned us he was going to tell a joke about teams wanting to talk to Seba with “where’s my cheque?” which drew the only boos of the morning from the crowd but he had told us it was a joke.

Manning said the team this morning was unveiling a new jersey but BMO who he called “The Bank of Soccer” even though they also sponsor Montreal Impact will continue to be on the jerseys and this year EVERY TFC team will have the BMO logo on their jersey (including academy teams).

A short video of every TFC jersey since 2007 was shown in a game highlight package (I was more intent on watching some of the players shown to bring back my own memories). Jerseys have included red, gray, black/onyx, and the blue hoop on white for last year’s heritage games but mostly the jersey’s have been red 90% of the time. A lady was brought onstage who I assumed was from BMO but the acoustics weren’t the best and she wished good luck to the team for the season starting on Saturday (oops that’s next Saturday).

Caldwell now asked Bezbatchenko questions:

Q. How to rally the boys right after the season ended?

A. How incredibly far they’ve come, they were a bit short finishing third, they want to be a contender EVERY year, from midway through the season to the MLS Cup they were the best team in the MLS. This year there’s a chip on their shoulder and unity.

Q. The two new signings?

A. We do have a strong core that we wanted to keep on the team.

They have kept 14 of the top 15 game minutes leaders from last year’s team. There was just some ‘tweaking’ required for teams that were starting to sit back on us….that’s the reason Victor Vazquez was signed as he can break down opponent’s defenses. He played for Cruz Azul but because last year he wasn’t getting the playing time he wanted and his family didn’t like living there, we obtained him for TAM money.

Chris Mavinga is a defender at left back and will provide depth for Justin Morrow. He played in Russia but didn’t like the environment and was loaned to some French clubs. He will be a competitor with Nick Hagglund for a starting position.

Bez continued: Forward Tosaint Ricketts, goalie Clint Irwin, and defender Benoit Cheyrou (big applause from attendees) were all re-signed. He praised new player Sergio Camargo (midfielder). It’s the 21 to 30 spots on the roster in player depth that are still being determined.

Caldwell question: Video replays?

TB answers: MLS will start video replays because of FIFA starting this initiative. There will be an extra assistant referee able to review plays in the press box. It can be a real game changer but will only be used to review goals, penalty kick calls and Red cards. We’re excited by this new tech.

Ex players Dwayne DeRosario and Danny Dichio were now introduced to wave to the fans.

Fan questions were now taken:

Q. An embarrassment of riches?

A (by Tim B): Everything is on the table, that is playing time must be earned! Peoples’ jobs are on the line. There’s a culture of pushing players through the Academy. There will be an opportunity in the Canadian Championship to use younger players. More home grown players will advance.

Q. What happened to the Academy below age 14?

A (by Bruce M): The team wanted to be widespread so instead of just having 20 players they want 200 in the 10-13 age groups until they reach age 14. It will raise the level of competition. He used the example of how DeRo came up from local teams. They are not getting rid of their own 10-13s, we’re getting smarter.

[A team official from North Toronto Nitros was at my table and helped flesh out the meaning for me]. TFC had a bad reputation of poaching players from other clubs and then cutting them leaving them to drift back to their old teams. Now it looks like they will let the 10-13s (except the ones already in their system) stay with their own clubs but just be called in to training sessions, workshops etc.

Q. European players for MLS? The prospects MLS will be able to attract players when European Nat team coaches discourage it?

A (by Tim B): China and Russia are limited to attracting players despite the money offered. TAM money will attract and influx of European players. Worldwide, players are attracted to North America because of safety concerns and the reliability of the players getting paid! (examples of Europa league teams three months behind in payroll). Manning adding that “Seba should have played for Italy at Euro 2016” drew the biggest spontaneous applause of the morning.

Q. (from member of supporter group Tribal Rhythm Nation): Replay technology? Can teams use it? (like the NFL challenge flag).

A (by Tim B): No! Only the referee assistant in the booth can use it. It will be a locked booth (haha). It is a good thing to try it out.

Bill M thanked the Tribal Rhythm Nation and the other five fans support groups for uniting last year. (big applause from the attendees).

Q. Is Raheem Edwards getting a contract?

A (by Tim B): We will let the player and the player agent know first. We are looking at him to fill a role so stay tuned!

Q. How did you get the supporter groups for such authentic looking videos?

A (by Tim B): The camera crews were excellent etc….

There was a player video shown for the crowd (because the players are actually in Florida in preseason).

Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco rotated through a series of answers. On consistency question ‘we all know the system, we have the same end goal but go one further. Jozy added they are all ‘must win’ games, don’t give up silly points. Michael added “treat every game equally”. Jozy on fans ‘we have 12 men’. Seba said ‘we can feel the energy’.

Wileman bragged about Seba learning so much English in the last 12 months. True but I still think there were some awkward pauses in his answers. Wileman said merchandise was 20% off (third reminder already!)

Wileman and Caldwell broke up the meeting at 10:30am although it wasn’t a surprise as they were ticking off ‘time for two more questions’, ‘one more question’… Wileman then bragged about a plan for a backwards running race in the parking lot against Caldwell during a TFC broadcast.

Alright! My time to get busy.

The crowd headed for the exits and Manning was mobbed by pro reporters (don’t these people get interviews with the players and staff everyday already?…when do fans ever get to ask questions?)

I saw a chance to ask Tim B some questions while he waited for his turn in the scrum and that’s why his time was limited. OK.

I confirmed with him that there will be no Toronto FC team in the PDL this year. He said TFC III will not be all Under 17 like it was last year (I noticed on the website they were being called U-20).

He said TFC III will be the first pro team in League 1 Ontario as some of the players will be under contract. He said the team will still be young but will have some returning college players play in the summer.

(I confirmed with L1O chair Dino Rossi last season that there were no pros in the league—although some of the players pick up some money at kids summer camps).

Now Bezbatchenko was called to the scrum but over there was Danny Dichio! Great he is the coach of TFC III for this season as Stuart Neely who I saw back in November at the L1O awards banquet gave up that position a few weeks later to go off to Delta BC to become head coach of South Delta United SC.

My questions for Dichio:

No PDL club, USL (ie TFC II) new rules down to three subs a game instead of five last year how will all your players find time to play?

DD: TFC will still have a relationship with PDL but it will mean loaning returning university players to PDL teams. K-W United was mentioned and we both gushed about Sergio Camargo who did the TFC Academy (2010 CSL Rookie of the Year Award while with Toronto FC Academy II), Coastal Carolina U, Syracuse U, and K-W United road. Wilmington dropped back to PDL this year so maybe they could take some players I suggested. I gave the example of L1O player Kota Sakurai (1016 L1O Young Player of the Year) who split time between the TFC teams in L1O, PDL, and USL last season as being one who would be limited by lack of opportunities. Dichio said Kota will be attending Dartmouth College from August onward.

Now it’s my turn to leave!

I had a question in reserve about TFCs relationship with the new CPL league that I wanted to ask Tim B but he had left when the scrum ended. That one I might get a chance to ask someone at the TFC II season seat holder ticket pick up (an underling said they were still working out the details of that at this time). Let’s see if the pro reporters asked something about it for tomorrow’s papers!

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Robin Glover

Robin Glover

Robin has been writing about soccer in the Toronto area for message boards and his own website since the early 1990s in the days of 2400 baud modems to USENET sites. In the 2014 season he attended 76 games in various leagues that played in the GTA area. Follow Robin on Twitter and on his website

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