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Rudi Schuller: Possible Toronto FC friendly against Liverpool is a terrible idea

Rudi Schuller: Possible Toronto FC friendly against Liverpool is a terrible idea

G. Newman Lowrance

At 0-5 and with a huge hill to climb in the league standings, Toronto needs to put its focus on improving its on-field performance instead of scheduling glamourous exhibitions

Picture this: Your team is in the midst of a franchise-worst start to the league campaign. It has only scored twice in five matches thus far. And even worse, the side has failed to tally a single goal in three home games so far this season.

So what do you focus on as an organization, in order to pull the team out of the doldrums?

If you're Toronto FC, and if the rumours are true, then you schedule a huge, unnecessary friendly against those other Reds: the storied club from Liverpool.

There has been no confirmation from either side, but all signs point to the Canadian MLS club playing host to the English giant at Rogers Centre - the place where 2012 started so brightly for TFC - on July 21.

Given the way the season has gone so far for Toronto, it's a terrible idea.

TFC began the year in fine fashion, dispatching MLS power LA Galaxy in the quarterfinal of the CONCACAF Champions League before putting forth an admirable performance for three-quarters of the semifinal round versus Santos Laguna.

The Reds' Major League Soccer campaign has not been as fortunate. Marred by defensive breakdowns and ill-timed goal droughts, Toronto currently props up the bottom of the MLS table with a horrendous 0-5 record.

Torsten Frings' return should help somewhat - the German legend was injured in Toronto's MLS opener at Seattle - but with the CCL behind them and a long, steep hill to climb just to get back to square one, TFC's players should be focused solely on the task at hand: getting the club's record back to respectability.

Instead, it seems that the higher-ups in Toronto's front office - no doubt buoyed by the electric atmosphere of nearly 50,000 in attendance at TFC's home leg versus the Galaxy - feel as though a glamour friendly against one of the world's most storied clubs is a sound move for a Toronto team in dire straits.

It's not.

Not only does Toronto run the risk of being overshadowed in its own city, but cramming another fixture into an already full schedule could spell disaster for a team that is already struggling to justify the support of even the hardest of the hardcore fans.

"Some of our members have commented on the possibility of a friendly with Liverpool," Phil Tobin, president of TFC supporters group Red Patch Boys, told "The obvious excitement comes from the large, established base of Liverpool supporters already in the city."

"However," Tobin continued, "the TFC supporters are still falling on the side of not liking the idea of midseason friendlies. It's sure to be a spectacle for a lot of football fans, but the supporters are always going to be wary of games like this.  They cost a lot, typically, and they only offer risk to league play in an already congested schedule."

TFC has played midseason friendlies before, of course. The highest profile of these was the exhibition against Real Madrid back in 2009, which was held in the Reds permanent home, BMO Field.

Real had just acquired Cristiano Ronaldo, and Toronto's modest stadium was abuzz as Los Blancos ran roughshod over their hapless hosts. The crowd gave a hearty cheer when TFC reservist Gabe Gala, long since gone from the club, scored his first and only goal in Toronto red, propelling the host to a "respectable" 5-1 loss.

All in all, the game against Real was nothing more than a sideshow, albeit a successful one at the gate for the beancounters.

Of course, that glamour friendly took place in a different time for the original Canadian MLS franchise. The new car smell hadn't yet worn off, and the sheer weight of five playoff-less seasons was still far in the future.

With in-stadium attendance dwindling and frustration amongst the remaining faithful growing, TFC can ill afford to be pummeled yet again by a European power. The optics of it would just reinforce the stereotype that Toronto FC soccer is inferior to that which is available across the pond, which hardly helps the local side's ongoing task of building a bigger fanbase.


Optics aside, the very real possibility of injury also rears its ugly head in these types of games. One only has to think back to TFC's first foray into the business of exhibitions involving English clubs to remember how fate can cruelly target key players, almost with a sense of irony.

Way back on July 25, 2007, Toronto hosted Aston Villa at BMO Field. The game was entertaining enough, with the two sides combining for six goals in a 4-2 win for the visitors. But the lasting effect of the game wasn't the scoreline or the opportunity for the then-expansion side to stand toe-to-toe with a team from one of the biggest leagues in the world.

No, the real effect was felt on the pitch, where then-TFC midfielder Ronnie O'Brien - who at the time was the club's only creative player of note - fell injured midway through the game. O'Brien would miss nearly the entire rest of the season as a result, and Toronto would go on a run of seven scoreless games en route to a new league record for futility in front of the goal.

"The risk of injury is always a concern with meaningless games and TFC has suffered in the past," said Tobin, who cited the O'Brien injury as "catastrophic" to Toronto's inaugural season.

Fast forward five years and replace O'Brien's name with Frings'. The result on the pitch would likely be the same for Toronto FC, but the long-lasting effects could be much, much worse.

Rudi Schuller is the Chief Editor of Canada.