TORONTO -- You have to hand it to Toronto FC, the club knows how to make a splash.
The Monday morning unveiling of Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley as the team's two newest stars came on the heels of an all encompassing marketing campaign that included viral videos, full page cover ads in a prominent Toronto newspaper, and all manners of assorted advertising seen around the city.
The announcement itself took place at TFC owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment's RealSports Bar & Grill, a massive, downtown venue that completely redefines what a sports bar can be. It was a fitting choice to hold the unofficial 'rebirth' of the club -- "the first phase" of the next chapter, as TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said -- because the actual inception of the team back in 2006 and 2007 was also a splashy, in-your-face series of moment that made the rest of North American soccer stand up.
However, as anyone even remotely connected with Major League Socer knows, the team fell flat on its face and became known for the club that sold much more sizzle than steak. Seven years of futility on the field has turned raucous BMO Field into a virtual library most of the time, with the leftover supporters going through the motions more out of a sense of duty rather than through genuine excitement.
Until Monday, that is.
The introduction of Defoe and Bradley -- in addition to recent moves that brought Dwayne De Rosario, Gilberto, Jackson, Justin Morrow and homegrown starlet Jordan Hamilton to the beleaguered side -- has repositioned Toronto as the most talked-about club in MLS.
Unlike the previous false starts, however, this time feels more legitimate, as established stars with plenty left in the tank have been brought in to bolster the team's promising young core.
This time it will be different, said MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke.
|Why can't we be great?"
- MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke
"A lot of people will criticize us for the commitment made, what they think was the amount of money that we've commited here, but I think a very simple saying we will steal from the Kennedys is appropriate today," Leiweke told the packed press conference, almost poetically. "'Some people see things as they are and say why, others dream of what can be and they say why not?' Today is 'why not.' Why can't we be great?"
Leiweke's brash style has polarized Toronto sports fans, but supporters of the local soccer team were literally singing his praises on Monday. And why not? The man has delivered on his promises to make TFC relevent again.
More importantly, the club is finally in the position to succeed and fulfill its enormous promise. But of course, some level of uncertainty will remain until the games are played.
"Nothing is won today," Leiweke stated matter-of-factly. "In fact, by virtue of the alphabet, we are in last place today in the standings in the [Eastern Conference], so we know our place, we know this is a moment in time that creates a great opportunity, but we also know the great opportunity will be won by hard work, perserverence, and a commitment to excellence.
"That's what lies in front of us today."
That the boss acknowledges the reality that nothing is won yet speaks to the complete cultural overhaul the club has undergone over the past few months. TFC is once again one of the big boys in MLS, but now -- with the confirmed additions of Defoe and Bradley -- it can finally start to act like one.
Toronto FC has burned through every excuse in the book over the past seven seasons. Heading into year no. 8, the club is finally beginning to act like a team that no longer needs any.