Toronto FC has failed to make the playoffs in its first five seasons in MLS. While the south end of BMO Field continues to be a loud, boisterous sea of red, the fanbase that is scattered around the rest of the stadium is becoming a bit more fickle.
With 47,658 fans packing the Rogers Centre for a Champions League quarterfinal match, you may think that support for TFC is as strong as ever, but looks can be deceiving.
A telling tale is that I have been on a waiting list for season seats since the inaugural season, and for the first time ever I had season seats offered to me.
You also have to take into account the opponent they faced at Rogers Centre, the Los Angeles Galaxy, whose star power (Beckham, Keane and Donovan) is likely responsible for filling half of the seats that night. What are the chances they sell 47,658 seats for the semifinal first leg against Santos Laguna?
Torsten Frings brings an element of credibility to the team, and his skill and workman-like approach has quickly made him a fan favourite in Toronto. However, the team still needs a true soccer star for the fans to get behind.
While hard work and determination pull at the hearts of the fans, it's skill, offensive brilliance and goals that captivate the mind. For the past two decades, Alessandro Del Piero has been doing just that.
I will admit I am not overly familiar with the rules regarding designated players in MLS, but to borrow a basketball analogy, TFC needs to put on a full court press to bring Del Piero to Toronto.
While he and all other stars crossing the Atlantic to play in the MLS will always gravitate to the big markets of LA and New York, Toronto could still make a few strong selling points to the Italian striker.
He is Looking to Move Abroad
Del Piero's contract ends at the end of this season, and speculation is that he is looking outside of Europe for employment, specifically China, Japan, the United States or the Middle East. While Canada does not figure in, we may be close enough to peak his interest, and he would still get to visit LA and New York at least once per year.
This is Your City
New York and LA boast their own soccer stars (Henry and Beckham, respectively), as well as a variety of stars in basketball (Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Paul), baseball (Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Matt Kemp) and football (Eli Manning).
Toronto, on the other hand, is devoid of any major sports stars. Del Piero would easily be the No. 1 star in the city.
Home Away From Home
While the history, architecture and food won't compare to back home, Toronto has one of the largest Italian populations outside of Italy in the world. Just take a trip into Little Italy during this summer's Euro 2012 tournament, and you will witness the passion for soccer on display.
He could also ask the Raptors' best player and fellow Italian, Andrea Bargnani, how well the fans and citizens of Toronto have treated him over the years.
Show Me the Money
Toronto FC will need to pay a hefty price to land Del Piero, with other teams vying for his services, but is it not an investment worth making? You would think jersey sales alone would bring back a return on investment.
When a player like Julian de Guzman makes a shade under $1 million per season, is it out of line to offer the Juventus star an annual salary in the $4-6 million range?
It may be wishful thinking. It may just be a pipe dream, but big-time soccer stars looking for work don't come around every year. If you want to prove to the fans that you are serious about winning, then this is a move you have to make.
The Leafs and Raptors continue to disappoint, and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has taken a beating for the way they run their teams, from making poor decisions to being unable or perhaps unwilling to make risky moves. Fans have become disenchanted with management and think that they are only looking out for their bottom line.
Success in sports is never guaranteed, and nobody knows this better than the fans. All the fans demand of the players is that they go out there and put in their best efforts. They just want them to try. When it comes to bringing a star like Del Piero to BMO Field, they just want management to do one thing: try.
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